Many agenda items at the February 12 meeting of the governing body of Blanco reflected a concern about keeping Blanco “Blanco”—both by maintaining its rural character and keeping it a place where people can live safely and sanely in harmony with their neighbors in a clean environment.
A Public Hearing on a re-zoning request for property on Trainer Street brought out a number of neighbors, all voicing passionate opposition to the proposed re-zoning of 5.69 acres from category R (residential) to R5 (manufactured or modular housing district).
Bill Godden lamented the fact that the state does not give counties enough authority to control development. “The city is our last defense; I implore you to consider the recommendation of Planning and Zoning (to deny the request for re-zoning)” he said.
Ginger Faught asserted that the proposed lot size for a modular community designed for senior citizens is “not compatible with other lot sizes” in the neighborhood and that the development would have a negative effect on property values.
Chris Hall focused on the density of the proposed development, questioning why it has been called a “senior citizen” development when there are no other amenities for seniors. Harry Boyd expressed concerns with increased traffic, and Mary Jane Holden echoed the same concerns.
Barbara Ballast referred to the UDC in her remarks that, “Cramming in a lot of homes with small yards is not in accord with Blanco’s desire to remain rural.” She concluded, “Let’s keep Blanco beautiful (with) projects to benefit the community.”
Neighbor Helen Knoll reiterated the concerns, which she said she has submitted to developer Massman Construction but has received no definitive answers. Linda Howard cited the historic importance of the Pittsburg area, which contains an old cemetery, and Amenthal, once the home of the Johnson family.
Finally Calvin Massman spoke, expressing confusion over what the zoning actually allows. In response, Ginger Faught produced a thick folder containing the Comprehensive Master Plan and encouraged Massman to read it to see what would be allowed.
Council member Bobby McClung thanked all those who came to speak, saying that he is “pleased with all this input.” He reminded those in attendance, “Two or three years ago there was no zoning, no control, and council is still walking that fence as to how much control the city should have.” He also pointed out that there is a difference between manufactured housing and modular housing, which should be clarified in the UDC. As to the R designation, he asserted, “The original UDC had no distinction between R1 and R3k—now we are feeling the pain of that.”
At the conclusion of all discussion, the board voted unanimously to reject the request for re-zoning the property, owned by Nancy Kretzschmar, at 228 Trainer Street.
In his report from the Planning and Zoning Commission, chair Jud Prince reviewed two recent meetings, including a public hearing at which the above issue of re-zoning was presented, at which time P&Z recommended denying the request.
P&Z also recommended granting a variance to restaurateur Bob Riley for a second sign at The Land Cut Restaurant on the square. The request was approved by council after some discussion of the dangers of setting a precedent of signs hanging in the city’s right of way. Retta Martin, speaking from the audience on behalf of the Historic Preservation Commission, said that the sign had received a certificate of appropriateness for its aesthetics, not necessarily for its location.
Julie Dill updated council on the recent Blanco Chamber of Commerce annual banquet, which she termed “awesome,” with over 50 people attending. She announced that Debra Yorgensen has been hired as the chamber’s administrative assistant and that the chamber office has “a new look” with a coffee pot and conference room for private meetings. She showed council the chamber’s new sign, which she said has received a certificate of appropriateness from the Historical Commission. She also mentioned a recent Fox News “Hometown Friday“ segment featuring Blanco and an upcoming “Voices of Texas” program which will feature interviews with eight Blanco residents.
Police chief Ed Sonier reported that January was “a slow month” with only 74 speeding tickets issued and 106 calls responded to by his department. The new police vehicle, a Tahoe, has been received and will be an asset to the department, according to council member Ron Houston, because of its versatility, serving as a mobile command post in addition to providing more room for collecting evidence. Later in the agenda, council approved financing the vehicle at a rate of 5 percent through Security State Bank.
Wayne Gosnell briefed the board on the work of the Dark Skies Team, a subgroup of the VIP program. He reminded council that the number one issue targeted by citizens who met last year at Gem of the Hills Community Center was “maintaining the rural character of Blanco.”
The team has reviewed the UDC lighting code provisions and is developing a baseline on the current darkness level in Blanco, including surveying the existing lighting. The team is advocating voluntary light abatement, which can be achieved by a light shield which Gosnell showed council.
“Dark skies are essential to keeping Blanco ‘Blanco’”, he asserted. In conclusion, he said his team has filed a request for the city to take action against the Lavender Capital Laundry for the intensity of their lighting, which he said “causes light trespass, light pollution, and could be a safety hazard.”
Laundry owner Kimberley Chapman responded emotionally with accusations that the inspector’s report was “falsified,” and that he approved the facility’s lighting on January 2. She countered that the laundry could be a site for robberies or assaults if the lighting is not sufficient.
“We are having way too many problems in this town,” she concluded.
Mayor Jim Rodrigue responded, “There is no doubt in our mind that you are going to take care of this in the right way,” offering the services of Wayne Gosnell to help her install the light abatement shields.
An irate Todd Ehlers came before the board for the second time questioning why progress has not been made on UDC enforcement at the Franklin Recreation Center, which adjoins his property on Pecan Street. His allegations that UDC regulations on setbacks, landscaping, drainage, impervious cover, and noise buffering were violated were countered by council member Bobby McClung, who said these regulations are part of the subdivision ordinance and do not apply to his property.
Ehlers fired back that there was a vacant lot next door when he moved in and that the rec center, with its noise, is not an improvement to the neighborhood. “It is development—it should follow the rules that apply to development. I demand that you do something about it,” he stated.
Neighbor Robert Giuoco complained that the center “does not seem to be neighbor-friendly. Basketballs bouncing 18 hours a day are incredibly annoying, and there are some kids in town with foul mouths screaming—it’s a real nuisance. It starts way too early in the morning and it goes ‘till way too late at night.”
The mayor reminded Ehlers that the meeting he had requested with the city attorney, P&Z chair Jud Prince, and McClung had taken place, and that McClung had met with Mr. Franklin. Ehlers complained that things are not happening fast enough.
McClung, for whom a city rec center has been a goal, was visibly upset and responded, “The property owner has agreed to make it more neighbor-friendly; we cannot ask him to tear it down. Your coming here with a laundry list is not going to get us anywhere.”
The mayor ended the discussion by concluding, “I think Mr. Franklin will work with us.”
In other business, council approved a resolution for a Safe Routes to School Program grant from TxDOT in the amount of $10,000 for non-infrastructure costs such as the services of an engineer. The mayor praised Martha Gosnell for her work on the project.
Council denied a request by the American Legion for discontinuing garbage service. A request for a street light at the end of 9th Street was denied since the property is not within the city limits. Election Judge Claudia Smith and Alternate Judge Kenneth Moore were appointed for the May 10 election. A request for proposals for an architect to finish the design of the city hall/police department annex renovations was approved.
“We have a floor plan and it’s time to move on,” said council member and local contractor Danny Ray. The wording on proposed plaques for the Byars Oak Tree and the Byars Building was approved pending approval by the Historic Commission. The request for a stop sign on 9th Street at the corner of Pecan was approved.
Funding of $2000 for the Blanco County Sesquicentennial was approved after a presentation by council member Rebecca Howerton, who spoke attired in period garb. Howerton also updated council on her ongoing trash-pick-up activities, soliciting aid from all residents in keeping Blanco clean for the upcoming festivities.
Council members Bobby McClung and Ron Houston volunteered to serve on a study committee concerning an economic development program spearheaded by Judge Guthrie.