Bowing to public pressure from businesses and residents located on Blanco Avenue, the governing body of Blanco voted unanimously to rescind the proposed street name change to Ron Houston Avenue at a special joint meeting of city council, the Planning and Zoning Commission, and the Blanco Historical Commission on February 24. “I wish we had not rushed into it,” commented council member Rebecca Howerton, in reference to a unanimous vote by council members in January to memorialize former Mayor Pro Tem Houston.
In addition to his years of service to the community of Blanco, Houston and former Mayor Jim Rodrigue had worked with TxDOT to have a traffic signal installed at the corner of Blanco Avenue and Highway 281, the site of several traffic fatalities. Houston is also remembered by community members as the spokesperson for Super S Foods, located at the corner of Blanco Avenue and 281.
In defense of the current street name, Howerton reminded council, “We are the only city in Blanco County with a Blanco Avenue.” Mayor Pro Tem Bobby McClung expressed his appreciation for the public input at the last meeting and asked that at the March meeting another way to memorialize Houston be discussed by council.
In reference to any address changes that have already been initiated by Blanco Avenue residents, McClung said he had received assurance from the postal service that residents could receive mail at either Blanco Avenue or Ron Houston Avenue, if it were granted “an alias.” Memorial signs could be added to the current road signs.
In other business, two new members were appointed to the Planning and Zoning Commission—Dana LeBlanc and Chuck Homan. P&Z chair Martha Herden commented, “These people will bring a high standard” to P&Z. She also thanked Rebecca Howerton for suggesting them as candidates.
The remainder of the meeting was devoted to presentations by the Blanco Historical Commission and Bobby McClung. BHC chair Linda Howard explained that a grant to develop Design Guidelines for the Blanco historic district was awarded almost two years ago, and that developing these guidelines will benefit those wishing to maintain the historic character of Blanco in their residences and businesses.
Rebecca Greathouse, a recent graduate of the school of architecture at UTSA with a certificate in Historic Preservation, showed those in attendance the completed Survey and Inventory of Historic Buildings which was completed last December, including information on the over 260 historic properties within the Blanco city limits, all in proper Texas Historic Commission form.
The document will be available for public view at the BHC office in the Byars Building on the square. As she explained, historic properties are located in all parts of Blanco, including original turn-of-the-century buildings, Arts and Crafts buildings, and an infill of ranch homes. She gave a slide presentation showing different types of structures, including the San Antonio de Valero mission-style school.
She explained the three-step process by which a building can be classified as a historic landmark—first the local landmark process, then the Texas landmark process, and finally, the National Register of Historic Places. She used Amenthal, the home of Lydon Baines Johnson’s mother Rebecca Baines, as an example of a dwelling which should be included in all three categories. She also announced plans for a walking tour brochure, which will enable people to see what buildings are unique to Blanco.
Greathouse further explained the advantage of having design guidelines in making fair decisions in awarding Certificates of Historical Appropriateness, providing consistency in design review. She explained that guidelines can provide incentives for investment, enhance property value, and provide tools for education. They can help homeowners make additions which are historically appropriate and can provide temporary tax reductions. Howard assured those in attendance that guidelines are not the same as ordinances but are rather tools to help those who wish to enhance their businesses or homes in a historically-appropriate manner. Greathouse explained that architect Sue Ann Pemberton, a UTSA professor, aided the city in developing the guidelines.
Bobby McClung gave a slide presentation on the Streetscaping project, which is part of downtown revitalization in cooperation with several community agencies, including Keep Blanco Beautiful. He explained that the city and TxDOT may be able to work together to modify the character of Highway 281, due to changes in TxDOT’s mission as of June 2009.
TxDOT now considers the impact of a highway on a community’s economic development and “community enhancement”—not just as an artery to move traffic through as quickly as possible. Hence, as McClung explained, it may be possible to include amenities to 281 such as a median strip planted with trees, sidewalks to facilitate pedestrian traffic, and cobblestone crosswalks. “Thinking long term, it’s not out of reach,” concluded McClung.
Greathouse added that there are companies which help communities find money to fund streetscaping, adding that they could do some research to see what the people of Blanco want. “My hope is that $3K-4K could get us some artists’ renderings to get people thinking,” said McClung.
In fact, according to Greathouse, a subcommittee of the streetscaping project has a letter out to several firms, asking them to respond in 30 days if they are interested. In answer to a question about the status of the David Key Lamplight Project, Retta Martin responded that the project is “still alive and well.”