Today is tomorrow’s yesterday. Yesterday, in a previous letter from Sarajevo, we made a case for making some common sense changes to Blanco’s Unified Development Code (UDC), our annexation plans, and other means of shaping Blanco’s future to ensure that we retain the small town, Texas Hill Country character we all love. We argued for adopting some common sense Design Guidelines to control the architectural appearance of new commercial properties and prevent our little town from morphing into the 281 strip in Marble Falls.
We said that we needed to pursue our annexation plans to give the city more say over what gets built in our commercial corridors. We hoped for progress on controlling the billboards that blight our roadsides. We argued that 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. As important as these issues are, there are others that deserve the attention of the new City Council that we will elect in May.
We need to get our economic development plans cracking. New businesses don’t just “happen” to be attracted to a particular place. They have to be encouraged and, yes, sold on the idea that locating in Blanco will make them money. New businesses mean more jobs, a higher tax base, more convenient living for our citizens and, importantly, a reason for our young people to remain in Blanco once they graduate from school. And that means attracting businesses with real jobs that pay well, not just minimum wage fast food/convenience store positions.
Our young people need to see that they can have a bright and economically stable future in Blanco. There is all kinds of assistance available from the State of Texas and the federal government for rural communities wanting to push for real economic development. We need to take advantage of some of it.
We need to play to our strengths. One of those is our Blanco Heritage Days/Ranch Rodeo at Yett Park. We need to figure out a way to organize and market this event to attract both vendors and tourists while still being a celebration of all things Blanco for the citizens of Blanco. The Ranch Rodeo, if you have never seen it, is a pretty unique event. We can envision busloads of German tourists pulling in to see an exciting combination of real ranching skills in a cultural setting rich with German heritage. German tourists in Blanco? Why not? They come to the United States each year by the hundreds of thousands. Blanco needs to get on their circuit.
We need to figure out a way to build a safe and secure path from town out to Yett Park. Yett Park is a tremendous asset already but would be an even greater draw for citizens and tourists alike if we were able to ride bicycles or horses or buggies…or just walk out to the park without endangering life and limb on Hwy 281. There’s a federal government program to assist cities with land acquisition for parks. Our new President’s Economic Stimulus package must have money in it somewhere for things like this. We need to figure out how to tap those funds and make Yett Park an integral part of Blanco.
For tourists or prospective businesses to be attracted to Blanco requires that we capitalize on the small town charm with which we are blessed. Part of that charm is the results of the many on-going community development efforts that strive to preserve the way of life we enjoy in Blanco and to make it a better place tomorrow. We need to get fully behind these community efforts. Fund raising for the new library, the expanded Gem of the Hills facilities, and the Second Mile Youth Center are all very important. The on-going work on the Safe Routes to School project and the downtown revitalization project will yield substantial benefits for the whole community and need to be supported. The continuing improvements to the Old Blanco County Court House and Keep Blanco Beautiful’s on-going beautification efforts constantly improve our public face to the world. Blanco’s many fraternal, service and religious groups add to our quality of life in so many ways. Community development and economic development go hand in hand. People and businesses are attracted to attractive communities. We stand amazed at the tremendous number of dedicated community volunteers who work so hard, day in and day out, to make today’s Blanco a better Blanco tomorrow.
The recent Community Trash Off and River Clean-Up Day is a great example. The entire effort reportedly was a big success. Have you noticed that there is less and less trash and junk that gets pulled out of the Blanco River each year? That’s because we are gaining on the problem. We are taking our river back from the careless or uncaring people who thoughtlessly pollute it. We can do the same thing with the rest of our community. By hauling away the trash and cleaning up our properties, we can make Blanco a more attractive community as a whole and, thus, a more attractive place to settle a family or a business. A clean community is good for business and business is good for Blanco.
In that regard, we understand that the City Council has approved Chief Sonier’s recommendation to hire a Code Enforcement Officer. This is really great news! We hope this officer will be trained and empowered both to enforce Blanco’s Unified Development Code and to inspect and condemn dilapidated buildings for health and safety reasons. We have fire traps, rat traps and junkyard traps all over town that just need to disappear. This is an economic development issue as new people and new businesses rarely will move to a place that is plagued with such problems. Getting a Code Enforcement Officer is a huge step ahead and the new City Council should give the officer and the Chief their full support for an aggressive clean-up of Blanco.
Of course, part of “Keeping Blanco, Blanco” is preserving our still relatively dark nighttime skies and keeping them free from unnecessary light pollution. We know that while we’re away, many others in Blanco are working hard on this. We’re sure that if the high school gets new tennis courts they will have night sky friendly lighting that will be shielded to put light on the courts and not over the horizon (won’t they?). Likewise, we’re confident the new motel and the coming Sonic Drive-In on Hwy 281 will have only night sky friendly, glare free outdoor lighting in accordance with Blanco’s UDC (won’t they?). As the City replaces aging streetlights around town we need to install modern cobra head luminaries with full cutoff, flat lenses mounted parallel to the ground and not the infamous “sag lens” or “drop lens” kind that spread light sideways, wasting energy, putting glare onto neighboring properties, and polluting the night sky. We look forward to seeing more and more Blanco businesses installing or retrofitting their outdoor lighting with attractive, night sky friendly fixtures that preserve the small town atmosphere of Blanco. The City Council and the Chamber of Commerce can be of great help in encouraging this and in providing incentives and recognition to business and individuals who take action in this area for the good of the entire community.
Are these issues important to you? Do you care about what kind of community Blanco will be in the future? If so, you need to get out and vote for those candidates who will take these problems head on and wrestle them to the ground.
So, that’s our perspective from afar. Collectively, we have a lot to do. The Mayor and City Council can provide leadership and focus but they can’t do it all themselves. Fortunately, there are many, many people in Blanco who are working very hard to make these dreams come true. We are so happy to be a part of Blanco and to know that its citizens are pulling together in so many ways to “Keep Blanco, Blanco.” We’re looking forward to getting home!