Even though we are temporarily half away around the world, working in Bosnia and Herzegovina, our thoughts constantly turn to home and to all the happenings in our beloved Blanco. We keep up with what is going on through the very fine internet edition of the Blanco County News for which, Heather, we are very grateful.
Several weeks ago, Ralph de Leon had an excellent piece in the paper that laid out a vision for the Blanco that we all fell in love with and wish to preserve. With city elections coming up soon, we thought it appropriate to build on Ralph’s vision and make some suggestions voters might keep in mind when electing the men and women who can bring focus to the hopes and dreams of us all.
There has been great progress in Blanco recently. Super kudos go to everyone who worked so hard for so long with TxDOT. We’re finally getting a signal light at Hwy 281 and Blanco Avenue. That will make that intersection much safer and will slow down traffic coming into town from the South. Importantly, TxDOT seems to have come around to agreeing to a pedestrian crossing light near the high school. This is super! We’ll have a complete victory when we get them to agree to an on-demand crossing light on Hwy 281 near the elementary school. The traffic delay would be minimal but the benefits substantial as it would provide a safe way for school children living east of Hwy 281 to walk and ride their bikes to school without becoming a statistic. Keeping Blanco safe for our kids should be one or our top priorities.
Sears has come to town and we hear that a Sonic Drive-In is in the works. The wave is coming. It is only a matter of time before these and many, many other businesses will be coming to Blanco as their business models determine they can make a profit. We should encourage this as it will increase our tax base, help provide needed services for our community and generally improve our quality of life… IF, and this is a big one… if we are smart enough to get some Design Guidelines in place first. Without Design Guidelines, Blanco will inevitably morph into looking like the commercial 281 strip in Marble Falls. If we don’t put design restrictions on commercial development, especially nationally franchised development, then we’ll just get the standard, corporate-designed structures that blight so many of our cities. We’ll lose the small town charm that we all cherish so much. If we want to preserve the small town, Hill Country “sense of place” that most of us like about Blanco, then we can do like many other communities across the nation have done and adopt some sensible design guidelines that will control the architectural appearance of new commercial properties. We can still have development, but it should be on our own architectural terms, terms that keep Blanco from becoming just another wide place in the road in the mind numbing world of flashy franchise businesses.
We need to go ahead with our annexation plans. Even if we do get good design guidelines in the city, they will have no effect on the areas immediately outside the city. A good example is the “large service station on 281 South” that is now within the City Limits, polluting our night skies with excessive, totally over the top outdoor lighting. That station could not be built today with all those glaring lights. It would be against Blanco’s Unified Development Code (UDC). But when it was built, it was in Blanco’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) and, for whatever reason (unless its been changed since we’ve been away), our current UDC exempts the ETJ from the outdoor lighting requirements that would prevent all that light from polluting our nighttime skies. If we want to have control over what gets built in Blanco and benefit from an expanded tax base, we need to extend our City Limits along our commercial corridors so that development in these areas is governed by our UDC.
We need to get a handle on billboards and how to get rid of them within the City Limits. Remember when we used to have a magnificent view of the Blanco Valley when we came into town on Highway 281 from San Antonio? Then they put up those billboards and the view became just a memory. Other cities have addressed this problem and we should too. Here again, had that land been inside the City Limits, they couldn’t have erected those billboards but it wasn’t so now we’ll have to figure out a way to regain our lost view by working with the owners… and it will probably be very expensive.
We need to modify the UDC with a simple provision that will give the City Council influence over areas not currently within the City Limits of Blanco. The provision would simply state that all commercial construction in the ETJ must come into compliance with the UDC within X years of annexation. That would prevent fiascos such as have occurred in the past… obnoxious lighting, billboards, etc. Yes, there are legal issues involved but that’s why God created proactive lawyers… to figure these things out.
While these issues may not seem pressing to some, they really are quite important. If we are attract businesses and good jobs to Blanco, we need to capitalize on our strengths. Prime among those is our Texas Hill Country, small town charm. Blanco can retain its charm even as it grows. The very act of “Keeping Blanco, Blanco” will spur economic growth and give our citizens a brighter future in a town we can still be proud of. But it won’t happen by accident. We need to take steps now to preserve Blanco’s character and, in so doing, to establish Blanco as a preferred location for the residential and business growth that is the key to the future.
Today is tomorrow’s yesterday. If we had fixed these problems yesterday, we wouldn’t have them today. If the new City Council we are about to elect will make these issues a priority, we won’t have to regret tomorrow what we could fix today.
Sarajevo for now but Blanco forever!