In his report to the Blanco city council on March 20, planning and zoning commission chair Jud Prince informed members that P&Z members recommended denying a request for a digital reader board sign for the proposed Sonic Drive-In on Highway 281 South, based on a recently-adopted city council ordinance. Instead, P&Z members recommended granting a variance for a fixed reader board sign 8 feet high by 6 feet wide. Those dimensions, according to Prince, are consistent with signage requirements still being hammered out as part of the UDC. Sonic representative John Patton brought a site plan for the proposed Sonic as well as a drawing of the proposed “monument-style” sign, which will be mounted on a pedestal. Council member Tina Gourley questioned whether the sign would be a traffic hazard but was assured by Prince and Patton that the sign will sit well back from the highway. Council voted unanimously to grant the variance. According to Patton, construction is scheduled to begin within 30 days and should be complete by the July 4 holiday.
Resident Doug Hain updated the council on his plan for bike trails through Blanco, using the routes already approved for the Safe Routes to School project. Hain said it is important “to keep pedestrian infrastructure at the forefront of the plan” and cited the economic boon to Blanco from ecotourism events such as the upcoming Real Ale Ride. Along with public works director Nathan Cantrell, Hain calculated that approximately 30 signs, at a cost of $50 each (including poles) would be required. Mayor Jim Rodrigue expressed his support for the plan, adding, “We need to see where we might have a little money in the budget” to fund the project before the next budget cycle begins.
Ralph de León, owner of the Blanco County Inn, expressed his willingness and that of other merchants to sponsor signs for the bike trail. De León, supported by several merchants and members of the chamber of commerce, spoke of his “vision” for Blanco, re-emphasizing points printed in an article which appeared in the Blanco County News February 25. He stressed being prepared for future development by upgrading the sewer and water treatment facilities and by hiring a city manager to oversee controlled development, which would favor local merchants and encourage Blanco natives to shop locally. “I don’t care about people coming here—this is my town and I want these things for me and my family.” De León recounted the effort he and his wife have put into renovating the Blanco County Inn but lamented the lack of action in repairing 10th Street adjacent to his property, which he had requested council to look into earlier, adding “Nothing has happened.” He emphasized the need for “a timetable and goals,” adding that city planning is at least a part-time job and that city council and the mayor are all busy with other jobs.
Both council member Tina Gourley and the mayor countered that progress is being made. “A lot of needs are coming to the city all at once—to say it (economic development) isn’t being planned for is not correct” stated Gourley. Rodrigue explained, “We’re getting into economic development with the chamber and the county. I feel like we’re being chewed out for things we’re already doing.” De León responded, “I’m not chewing anybody out—I just think you need help.” He added, “It is the opinion of many in town that a city manager would be a blessing.” The cost of hiring a manager was discussed, with the mayor asserting that the number of residents on fixed incomes would preclude paying a full-time person’s salary. Council member Doug Pautz estimated that doubling the taxes of every citizen would be required to hire someone full time. Pat Cawfield, attending as a representative of the chamber, suggested hiring someone part-time, and chamber director Julie Dill added comments supporting that possibility, referring to the progress the chamber has made since she was hired.
Keep Blanco Beautiful representative Retta Martin updated council on the upcoming 10th Annual Trash-Off Day and 3rd Annual River Clean-Up April 4. A volunteer sign-up sheet will be posted at city hall. Lunch will be served at the courthouse to those volunteers who bring a copy of their water bill (to certify their residence in Blanco.) Residents can call for trash pick-up or bring trash to the city yard adjacent to the recycling center on Jones Avenue. Civic groups will be encouraged to participate in the clean-up.
Martin also informed council that a new oak tree has been planted in Bindseil Park to replace one which fell. Money donated by Arlon and Marilyn Bindseil will be used to upgrade the existing sign at one entrance to the park and add another. Finally, Martin requested a meeting with city council to discuss the streetscaping project.
Police chief Ed Sonier introduced a new officer, Kraig Klein, who was later approved by council after discussion in executive session. Klein, a native of San Antonio, comes to Blanco from Anson, Texas. He was hired at the rank of patrolman for a salary of $27K and will serve a 90-day probation period. In other police news, the department is seeking a COPS grant to pay for 3 additional officers. Sergeant Robert Armstrong has information on the grant, which will pay entry-level salary and benefits for 3 years.
Chamber of commerce director Julie Dill announced two grand openings and ribbon-cuttings in March, one for the Sears Hometown Store on March 14, and the other for the Healing Arts Community Health Center on Sunday March 22 from 1-4 p.m. Plans for the Lavender Festival include incentives to bring people to Blanco throughout the month of June, including a free T-shirt which says, “I went to all the farms” for those who visit all six lavender growers. A list of “10 reasons to come back to Blanco” will be included in the Blanco Lavender Days Magazine. Vendor booths for the festival are 95 per cent full. The chamber is also looking for someone to write articles for the Blanco County News and for the website promoting Blanco businesses and tourism.
Council voted to appoint Debbie Stenulsen as election judge for the May 9, 2009, general election. Candidates for the two city council seats are as follows: Pamela Capps, Bobby McClung, and Danny Ray. Tina Gourley is running unopposed for mayor.
In other business, council approved the following: a request for an outside city limits water connection for Barney and Nancy Cline, closing Pecan Street 8 a.m.-10 a.m. on April 18 for the Project Graduation-sponsored Blanco 5K River run, pursuing a contractor to dredge behind the Wayne Smith Dam in exchange for the use of any dredged materials for fill dirt, and a revision to the procedure of notifying individuals who violate city codes. Nathan Cantrell and the mayor will draft a letter giving individuals in violation 30 days to comply and telling them what they need to do to get into compliance. Under current UDC rules, individuals have only 72 hours before legal action is taken. Exceptions to the 30-day rule include code violations which constitute an immediate health hazard. Finally, council approved a $1000 salary increase for police officer Robert Armstrong and a promotion to the rank of sergeant. The city is considering adopting a new city logo, and suggestions for a design can be submitted to city hall.