At the regular monthly meeting of the Blanco Historic Preservation Commission on Monday night, PEC addressed the situation involving the power pole that they recently installed in front of Uptown Blanco at the corner of 3rd and Main streets.
The self-supporting concrete pole came under fire from the commission and Uptown Blanco for its placement in the historic district and the lack of communication involving its installation with those groups.
Jerry Wisian addressed the commission at the meeting, stating that PEC had met a couple of times with the city, the commission, and Uptown Blanco representatives. PEC has decided to move the pole back one block to the corner of 3rd and Elm streets.
“We’re not going to do any work going down Elm until the first of the year because we don’t have any money in our budget,” Wisian said. The concrete pole, however, would be moved back a block within a month.
”PEC representatives were eager to put Blanco Historic District first when working to resolve this issue,” said Uptown Blanco’s Carolyn Zbytovsky in a later interview. ”We commend them for their efforts in this matter and look forward to working with them in the future on other projects.”
Commission chair Retta Martin said the commission appreciated what PEC has done for the district and that they had learned a lot about policy. Wisian replied that the historic district is something that PEC hadn’t considered and that they will from now on.
During the chair’s comments later, Martin stated that the district is a special place. Uptown Blanco put in millions of dollars to rehabilitate the buildings on the western side of the square and not many towns are that lucky, she said. She appreciated everyone who worked on the commission, ordinance, and district.
After the PEC discussion, the commission meeting moved on to other topics. Rudy Nino and Charles Willgren were welcomed to the commission as they were appointed at the recent regular meeting of the Blanco City Council. The two join Becky Greathouse, Dorothy Dillon, and chair Retta Martin on the commission.
Martin updated those present about the Streetscape plan. From the bids that were given to the city, Winters & Company was recommended to and approved by the city council for the project planning. The council also agreed to match funds donated by Keep Blanco Beautiful. The next step, Martin said, was to write letters to local foundations for additional funding. The contract with the planner wouldn’t be signed until funds were raised. Martin noted that Uptown Blanco had done a great job with the western block of the square, and so had the Old Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society with work on the courthouse grounds.
Commissioner Becky Greathouse updated the commission on the design guideline project. A public meeting is planned for September. The project received a Certified Local Government grant and Greathouse has been working with a representative from Main Street Architects.
“She has done a lot of design guidelines for a lot of small towns,” said Greathouse. “She’s well-versed in looking at the aspects of small towns. [Main Street gives] recommendations as to how we can grow inside the district with new infill that respects the historic architecture.”
The design guidelines will take the form of a guidebook for how new building architecture should follow the “rhythms” of historic architecture without making a new building appear historic.
Commissioner Dorothy Dillon gave a report on the progress of getting a national historic site designation for the Mission School, also known as the old Blanco high school. Once the designation was received, Dillon and others involved could apply for grants. Dillon stated that, despite several calls to Senator Greg Smith’s office, she had not heard back from him.
Becky Greathouse said that it was good to see so many people who supported restoring the building. She noted that, after the building is completed, it will look great from both 13th and 11th streets.
The commission then discussed signage guidelines, which apply to the entire city. Rudy Nino, who in the past was on the Planning & Zoning Commission, stated that the guidelines were very vague and his recommendation was for business owners to check with the P&Z commission before spending money to make the sign.
The signage guidelines inside the historic district, however, have different requirements such as smaller sizes and, like many changes to the outward appearance of buildings in the district, require a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) from the commission. Martin pointed out that the banners now up in the square were installed without an approved COA.
Greathouse said that the city should lead by example and should have come through the commission. “It is a law, and everyone is bound by it,” she said. If that’s the way the ordinance is written, she continued, that’s the way it should be done.
Mayor Chuck Homan, who was present in the audience, argued that the banners were decorations, similar to Christmas decorations, and did not need a COA. Commissioner Rudy Nino commented that, regardless of the signs, the commission is there to make recommendations to the city council, and the council has the final word.
Utilities director Nathan Cantrell reported that the city would be applying for a COA at the next regular meeting and that the banners were not originally going up in the historic district.
Following that discussion, the commission appointed Rudy Nino to vice-chair and Charles Willgren to secretary.
Peter McKinney, the city’s code enforcement officer, is reviewing the historic preservation ordinance, Retta Martin reported. The ordinance is supposed to be reviewed periodically since some items seem like a good idea but are difficult in practice. For example, last month, the commission received four COA applications and convened four separate times to consider each. Nino agreed to review the ordinance as well. The meeting was then adjourned.