At their regular meeting September 7, the four members of Blanco’s Planning and Zoning Commission heard requests for variances from two entities—the Blanco Luxury Suites and a proposed Stripes convenience store. Bharat Patel, owner of Blanco Luxury Suites, complained that people driving by his hotel on Highway 281 north of Blanco cannot see his sign and often have to turn around and come back before they see it. Explaining that his hotel may become part of the Best Western chain, he proposed a sign with the Best Western logo on a 60-foot pole, which could be seen above utility poles and trees on adjacent properties. He also briefly expressed a desire for electronic messaging, although Blanco’s UDC does not allow it.
Members Connie Barron, Courtney Curbow, and Kirk Felps all expressed their concern that the height of the sign exceeds Blanco’s current signage ordinance of 12 feet from the ground. On the Square owner Liz Waller said, “I love your place—it has brought a lot of business to Blanco.” But she added, “I’m sorry; this is our little bitty town. Take your time—it’s all about the atmosphere. If people can’t find the hotel, they can ask.” Curbow questioned the precedent which would be set by granting the variance and asked if other motels in town might not be within their rights to request similar signs. She added, “There is nothing else in Blanco that is towering 60 feet in the air,” and Kirk Felps said, “I don’t like a sign that high.”
Chair Dana Leblanc asked if commission members might wish to visit the site before making a decision, but the other members expressed certainty that a visit would not change their minds, and the request was defeated by a 3-1 margin, with only LeBlanc voting in favor of it. McKinney reminded Mr. Patel that P&Z is only a recommending body, and that city council must make the final decision. He suggested that Mr. Patel put his request on the agenda for the September 13 city council meeting.
McKinney also explained that he is working on completing a review of the signage ordinance with the help of city staff, and that the plan is to allow signs as large as 120 square feet along the 281 corridor. Therefore, he indicated that there was no problem with granting a variance [for a larger sign than allowed by current UDC guidelines] requested by the Stripes convenience store to be built at the corner of 13th Street and Highway 281 North. The second variance request by Stripes was for a reduced setback for a side fence. McKinney reported that the owners of the adjacent property had received a notice of the proposed reduced setback and had not responded, nor were they in attendance at the meeting. In response to questions by Connie Barron about the proposed sign for Stripes, he said that it is within the signage guidelines and is lit internally. When Barron asked whether it is “night-sky compliant,” he responded that it is. P&Z recommended granting the Stripes variance.
In other business, commission members voted to accept the resignation of Diana Schwind after 6 years of service. They also voted to recommend changing their meeting date to the first Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m., subject to city council approval.
Following the meeting, commissioner Connie Barron decided to examine signs in the vicinity to determine the actual impact of 120-square-foot signage. In an “Open Letter to the Citizens of Blanco,” which was circulated via e-mail, she apologized for casting a vote to recommend granting Stripes the sign variance before doing appropriate research, and urged council to grant no more variances until a signage ordinance is in place. In her words, “The proposed sign (10 feet wide and 12 feet tall) would far exceed the size necessary to adequately promote this new business.” In conclusion, she recommended “that the council either deny the variance outright or table this issue and send it back to P&Z for further review, more time for public input and collaboration with Stripes representatives to present the council with a proposal more in keeping with the needs of our town.”