By Danielle Church and Rebecca Rose
Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS — After the director of planning and development position went vacant in Harker Heights last month, City Manager Steve Carpenter said the city started advertising for the position and had already received several applications.

The position is posted on the Texas Municipal League website, and lists compensation for the job at $7,000 a month, depending on qualifications.

Among other things, the description states the director “is responsible for … assisting other city employees, citizens and the City Council in developing and implementing a vision for the city of Harker Heights.”

But the process of determining the best land usage of a city that has leapfrogged in growth is much more than a one-man show.

Like any city in Texas, Harker Heights has a comprehensive plan — a working guide used by the city to reach attainable goals that, among other things, helps them plan future growth and development within the city.

“There’s always a goal to develop a quality city,” Carpenter said. “You want to develop something that’s nicer than the areas around you (that) will hold value of your property as you go into your future.”

Over the past five years, the city has been continuously flourishing with new businesses and housing developments popping up at every corner.

While residents of Harker Heights notice these changes, they may not realize that there is an extensive process behind how such physical development takes place.

In 2007, according to the comprehensive plan, one of the city’s biggest goals concerning land use was to “plan land use activities in a way that results in efficient, convenient and complementary land use pattern.”

‘Where there’s rooftops, there’s retail’

For developers looking to maximize investment opportunities and entice construction-leery investors, the key is knowing where and how to spot growth trends in those land usage patterns.

Gary Dillard is a development manager for Versa Development, a company working on their first project within Harker Heights, a multi-unit residential facility.

“If you’re not familiar with an area, first you want to identify the major corridors,” he explained. “You need to identify where the growth trends are. You want to look at thoroughfare and see a substantial amount of new growth.”

Dillard said looking at the interest in residential areas was key to the process.

“I think it essentially starts with where people want to live. School districts have a lot to do with that,” he said.

Commercial developers watch school districts and the residential areas that spring up around them, looking to maximize on things like commuter patterns and traffic counts along major access roads, like Knight’s Way.

“There’s a saying in real estate, ‘where there’s rooftops, there’s retail,” he said. “A lot of that commercial development on Knight’s Way has followed those rooftops.”

Smart planning is especially important in smaller communities like Harker Heights, where the city can get out in front of development and really nail down land uses that make the most sense, he said.

“Cities like Harker Heights that are smaller, tend to get it right the first time,” Dillard said. “They’re able to eyeball those focal points of where growth is coming and get ahead of it.”

“The city has done a great job in staying out in front of that development and getting that land use right from the beginning,” Dillard said.

Flexibility with change

Another objective outlined in the 2007 plan states that the city should “revise the zoning and subdivision ordinances as needed to implement council’s desires concerning policy and land use location.”

“The city should revise the zoning ordinance to include new use districts required to accommodate the increasing complexity of the city over time,” the plan states.

Approaching a city with suggestions about changes is a routine part of development in any municipality. If developers come across something, that makes better sense, then they will approach the city, Dillard said.

In Harker Heights, developers don’t have as many restrictions going through the rezoning process or a lot of red tape, he said.

“But you’ve got to prove (the benefits), to the neighborhood, to the city,” Dillard said.

Carpenter said that he recently sent discussion items to the planning and zoning department for upcoming council workshops. By talking to the planning and zoning commission and the council, they can come up with a goal to set priorities around.

He explained that the committee does a survey where they rate the discussion items one a scale of one to five, with one being the most critical, or most important item to be developed.

“We’re continually updating the work that we do,” Carpenter said. “Everybody works hard, but we need to work smart too.”