Part 1 of a series. Next Sunday, the Herald will feature Killeen’s plans for the downtown area.
The new comprehensive plan approved by the City of Killeen is, according to a city report, to be “a long-range planning document that establishes guidelines for the future growth of a community, while allowing a city to anticipate and manage growth in a way that improves the quality of life of its residents.”
Problem is, the last such plan still has 10 years left on it, and has shown questionable, if any, results so far.
Kevin Shepherd, founder of Dallas based Verdunity, Inc., gave a presentation to the council at its Tuesday meeting on what his company can do to create a new city comprehensive plan — for a price of $349,140. The council quickly approved it, 6-1, at the same meeting.
In February City Manager Kent Cagle provided an update to the council, and in return Cagle received from the council a motion of direction to proceed with the new comprehensive plan, according to a city staff report.
The report says that the plan establishes goals, objectives and policies as a framework to assist a city in future land use and development decisions in a manner that will provide for quality development within a city.
Shepherd said at the presentation the plan would likely place an emphasis on downtown and on existing neighborhoods.
“You guys have a ridiculous amount of potential here,” he said at the meeting. An attempt to obtain additional comment from Shepherd was unsuccessful as of press time.
The old plan
A similar comprehensive plan was prepared for the city in 2010, which City Spokesperson Hilary Shine said was supposed to last until 2030. Since that time, there was an unsuccessful attempt to work on the plan done internally.
“The (former) city manager, Ron Olson, added a senior planner position in the FY 17-18 budget to work on the plan internally,” Shine said, but did not have additional details. “Olson ultimately halted the process in FY 18-19.”
The 2010 plan, completed by Sugar Land-based Kendig Keast at a cost of $262,816, forecast Killeen’s population be in the range of 175,000 to 225,000 by 2040. Killeen’s population has grown annually for decades, and the estimated population this year is about 150,000. The 2010 plan also focused on the following areas: Future land use and character, growth management and capacity, mobility, parks and recreation, housing and neighborhoods and implementation.
The 2010 plan touched on working with land, specifically on developing a “green” framework for future development. It also touches on the importance of riparian areas, which are transition areas in between waterway edges and adjacent land.
“There is no doubt Killeen will continue to grow, likely still at a brisk pace, in the coming years,” the plan stated. “It is not the intent of this chapter to stop or slow the city’s growth. Rather, this comprehensive plan should provide a policy framework for ensuring that the anticipated growth is accommodated and managed in a way that is in the best interest of the community and its residents and taxpayers.”
The report addressed the need for coordination with the Killeen Independent School District on future school siting, which it said is essential as it can provide opportunities for joint city parkland acquisition and development in conjunction with new campuses.
“It can also provide advance planning for area trail linkages as residential and commercial development plans take shape,” the plan stated.
Citizen input, from a 2009 survey of Killeen residents, found that skate facilities, hike and bike trails, and water venues ranked highest as public priorities. It also showed that adequate fitness communities did not exist in the community, and that the city’s two existing community pools were no longer adequate.
The plan proposed three new parks, including two regional parks designed to fill gaps to the west and southeast. The third was a 66-acre linear park designed to link the regional park in the southeast to Stonetree Golf Club, connecting at U.S. 190.
It further mentioned “acres of parkland and miles of trail developed or improved in accordance with this plan and related parks, recreation and greenway plans” as an objective.
The 2010 plan also encouraged the city to initiate the “planning, design, and construction” of a 10-million-gallon-per-day water “treatment plant expansion as this process will require approximately five to eight years to complete.”
That’s something the city did do, striking a deal with Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 in 2013 to build a new water treatment plant on Stillhouse Hollow Lake. The $60 million water plant will serve south Killeen, Harker Heights, Copperas Cove and Nolanville. While Killeen is paying for about half of the cost for the project, the new plant will be owned by WCID-1. Construction is scheduled to be complete this year.
Another familiar tune in the 2010 plan: Impact fees.
Charged to developers and builders, impact fees help municipalities recoup costs of building roads and infrastructure up to new developments and structures. The fees have been talked about for years in city meetings, as city leaders also dealt with budget cuts and how to best fund the police department. The Killeen City Council turned down the implementation of impact fees in a 4-3 vote earlier this year after area developers complained Killeen’s growth would be stunted if impact fees became a reality.
But in 2010, the comprehensive plan encouraged the city to “investigate the feasibility of implementing development impact fees in Killeen (for water, wastewater, and/road improvement needs).”
Impact fees, according to the 2010 plan, can “provide earmarked funding for completing specified capital projects ... that benefits existing developed plus newly developing areas.”
The new plan
Shine added Wednesday that funding for the plan approved Tuesday was included in the General Fund of the city’s budget for Fiscal year 2020-21.
At the meeting, Councilmember Debbie Nash-King asked what the 2010 plan has accomplished.
In response, City Planning Director Tony McIlwain said there has been growth, but much of it is on an ad hoc basis.
“I give high marks for accomplishment, but not so much for how we got there,” McIlwain said, adding the same goals from the 2010 plan are still in place now. “The plan needs to be updated and reevaluated.”
McIlwain further noted that although the overall plan and the citizen engagement behind it are a decade old, that does not make it irrelevant.
“It is time to re-engage the citizens and chart an updated and fiscally sustainable path,” McIlwain said by email. “Overall, the commercial corridors and residential areas contemplated in the 2010 plan have developed where we expected. However, large areas of commercial designated land remain undeveloped despite dense, urban residential development in close proximity. Additionally, the city’s fiscal reality is much different today than ten years ago.”
McIlwain said the comprehensive plan allows both minor amendments and major updates to the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) based on a number of factors, such as scope of amendment, change in circumstances, consistency with other plans, and others.
McIlwain said that contracting a firm such as Verdunity supplements the work of his department.
“While planning staff is capable of updating the comp plan, Verdunity will provide resources and expertise in the areas of land use fiscal assessment, customized education and engagement programs, infrastructure design and the cultivation of small developers and businesses,” he said. “Staff will work hand-in-hand on this effort with Verdunity, while maintaining effort toward the primary services of conducting the day-to-day land use planning, downtown revitalization efforts and economic development initiatives of the city. Engaging a consultant provides expert resources dedicated solely to the plan which will expedite the process and elevate the completed product.”
Although she initially expressed reservations, including with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had, Nash-King voted in favor of approving the plan.
“I voted in support of the comprehensive plan because the current plan is a ten-year old document that the city has outgrown,” she said by email on Wednesday. “The city also have budgeted for the project and we do not have to pay a lump sum up front. Verdunity, Inc. will work with city leaders, local businesses and citizens to develop a plan to meet the growing needs of our community. This is a good investment for the city because the residents will have an input on the future growth of Killeen.
“It also benefits the city by identifying problem areas in the community that need to be addressed. Once the problem areas have been identified and a solution has been agreed upon, it the responsibility of the city council to ensure the city manager and city planner follow through with the comprehensive plan.”
New Councilmember Melissa Brown also expressed her doubts about the wisdom of approving a new plan, and cast the only council vote against it.
Councilmember Shirley Fleming said at the meeting she believes any new plan should take into account the needs and interests of Killeen’s children.
Councilmember Jim Kilpatrick noted that the land use map is often updated, and that the 2010 plan looked heavily at south Killeen in the context of residential development.
“The market did not bear that,” Kilpatrick said by phone on Thursday, noting that Killeen is dealing with an issues surrounding affordable housing. “That policy did not fit.”
Kilpatrick believes comprehensive plans such as the one recently approved help dictate policy.
“I think it’s imperative we have an update and a complete look at it,” he said. “We’re changing on the fly.”
The 2010 plan cited the need for “building neighborhoods and not just subdivisions.”
Mayor weighs in
Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra supports the plan, although he did not take part in the vote.
“I think the council took the right steps in moving this issue forward,” he said by email on Thursday. “When completed, this will give the council and the staff clear direction as to how the citizens want our city to grow and in what direction while utilizing our current resources. The return on an investment like for our city and to our citizens will easily exceed the initial cost of this plan.”
With respect to any potential controls in effect to ensure the plan is adhered to, Segarra believes the plan itself represents an “accountability factor.” Specifically, the question “is this part of our accountability plan?” will be what drives the council.
“We have a fresh council,” Segarra noted about the new members, adding that he hopes the plan will give them a guide on which to base making future decisions.”
Segarra does not believe the funds approved for the plan could have been better spent elsewhere, regarding it as a great investment.
“We’re going to rely on resources we already have,” he said, adding that Tuesday’s meeting effectively served as a workshop as well, with the presentation and discussion of the plan taking place before the vote on it.
On the issue of whether the city planning department would have been better able to take on the plan, Segarra said he doesn’t believe the department has the manpower for such a plan, and that the plan really does require a different, or outside, approach. He further noted that audits performed on the city, when done internally, raise questions as to if it could have better been done externally, and vice versa, leading to a “back and forth” situation.
Segarra appreciates Verdunity’s work and experience with other cities.
“I’m excited to see some of their solutions,” he said. “If they can figure out ways to limit expenses to the city, that’s a plus.”
Councilmember Steve Harris also voted for approving the plan.
“I honestly saw the approach for this Comprehensive Map as being more distinct and relatable to what we, the council, the city and the citizens are looking for,” Harris said by email. “It puts the focus on resources before getting into the ‘planning’ stage. If all things work out well, I do believe that this will be a worthwhile approach that will provide our city with benefits sooner than later ...if the council allows it to.
Harris said he believes the plan offers a “conceptual base.”
“It is needed because we are definitely piecing things together right now,” he said. “We seem to be doing things without first, re-establishing a base for all of it. This will provide a new conceptual base that I believe we need.”
Harris is confident the plan will be followed through.
“We have it set, as was described in the council workshop, in incremental stages in regards to the financing of the project,” he said. “I believe this will help ensure that everything goes as planned. If the city manager and, or the council gets concerned at some point, those areas of concern can be addressed and future actions can be decided upon dependent upon the concerns being alleviated.”
In sum, Harris believes the plan will be “worth it.”
“I am one of the council’s biggest “fiscal hawks”, if you will,” he said. “In this particular case, I see this action as a true investment into bettering our city. It is something that I believe should be done sooner than later.
“Even though the money could’ve been used elsewhere, which I am very aware of, this is, to me, a base for the city that we may have been missing for decades. I am just believing that it is worth the investment and will yield, in the end, great results ... if the council allows it to.”
With respect to the role of the city planning department, Harris said that McIlwain “will also stay an integral part of this process every step of the way.”
“Mr. McIlwain definitely has the experience but, unfortunately, as far as I know, do not the number of staff members to delve as deep as as the consultant can,” he said. “Also, just for citizen’s morale sake, it may be best for this initial new step be down by an outside entity. This is our first time working with them and I do hope and pray that this will be a, for real part, of a new beginning for the city of Killeen.
“With that said, Mr. McIlwain has, thus far, done an outstanding job in in his role in planning the implementation of new and even shelved ideas into and, back into the spotlight and on path to becoming realities. I do not doubt his abilities one bit.”
Councilmembers Ken Wilkerson and Rick Williams did not respond to several attempts for comment for this report as of press time.