The governing body of Blanco heard two new requests for variances on signage at their November 9 meeting. As Planning and Zoning commission member Courtney Curbow had warned earlier, other local motel owners want a variance to construct signs as large as the one granted to Blanco Luxury Suites owner Bharat Patel. In the Public Comments portion of the meeting, Swiss Lodge owner Joe Garza said, “I would like to put up a 60-foot sign like Blanco Luxury Suites has.” Mayor Chuck Homan informed him that he must go through the proper channels, presenting a plan to the Planning and Zoning Commission and requesting to be put on the city council’s meeting agenda.
Later in the meeting Ralph de Leon, owner of the Blanco County Inn, asked for a variance for a sign “exactly like the dimensions of the Luxury Suites sign,” citing the need for “an equal playing field” to compete with other businesses. “The genie has been let out of the bottle,” he continued; “the town’s vision is changing. We came to Blanco to be part of the town, and with the town changing, we just want to be on the same page.” De Leon admitted, “It would be okay with us if Luxury Suites stayed within the current guidelines. My guess is that it will not happen. It would be ideal for me if you could convince them not to put up that monstrosity.” He also stated his opinion that council had granted the variance without sufficient thought for the consequences. “Other towns have done quite well with a strict sign ordinance. Do we want to keep the small-town feel?” In a reference to the improvements he and his wife have made to their motel, he said, “All we have done is to try to improve Blanco. We embraced the concept of minimal signage,” he said, reminding council that he once served on P&Z. “Two of our signs were used as models for the new sign ordinance Debbie Homeier is sponsoring. We embraced the concept of minimal signage and roadside beautification. We didn’t come here and ask the city to change to suit us.”
The mayor instructed de Leon that his request to P&Z, which was tabled because he lacked a specific design when he presented it to them, needs to be re-submitted. De Leon responded that Mr. Patel did not go back to P&Z when his request was denied but rather came to city council and had his variance granted. Many in the audience applauded his comments. Council member Bobby McClung reiterated, “I’ll repeat what I’ve said, that the city has done a disservice by not adopting a sign ordinance. There are variances because there are exceptions based on the size of the building and delays. No one wants Blanco to look like Austin Highway. Let’s please hurry and adopt a sign ordinance that is long overdue.” Local businessman Thaddeus Millard commented, “If you want P&Z to help decide, then you need to listen to them.” McClung responded that P&Z is a recommending body whose role is to ease the workload of city council, concluding, “We are the governing body; our role is to use our common sense.”
Planning and Zoning Commission chair Dana LeBlanc reported that there was “lots of discussion of the signage ordinance” at P&Z’s November 1 meeting, and that they have subcommittees examining the VIP-proposed guidelines and the current signage ordinance. According to LeBlanc, there should be an ordinance ready for council approval by December or January. She commented that de Leon’s request for a variance was tabled because he did not present details on his plan for a larger sign.
Rod Knight of Cielo Springs, along with a number of the subdivision’s residents, came before council to express outrage that the fire hydrants have “Out of Service” signs on them because the water pressure is insufficient to fight a fire. “According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, that is unsatisfactory,” he said. He blamed developer Colonel Roper for the low water pressure which is inadequate for showers in the upper areas of the development. He spoke of an “ongoing fight between Roper and the city” over who should build and pay for a 100K gallon storage tank. “The design has been put in and approved but has not been acted on,” he said. He asked council if the city would pay half if Col. Roper would pay the other half. Public works director Nathan Cantrell said that the city would only build a supplemental system if the present one was inadequate. Roper employee Dale Yates said that the height of a tank on the proposed site in Cielo Springs would not be sufficient to function properly. Resident Guy Sutherland said he was fortunate that a recent fire on his property was brought under control before it got out of hand. A technical discussion ensued on how much pressure is required for fire trucks to pump water, with the indication that trucks could draw sufficient water to fight a fire by using a side connection and filling their storage capacity, then pumping water from their trucks to the fire. The mayor agreed to form a committee including city engineer Marvin Reavis, city attorney Eddy Rogers, fire officials, Cielo Springs residents, and city council members to arrive at a solution. City attorney Eddy Rogers concluded, “Everybody wants everybody in Blanco to have adequate water pressure and fire protection. Give us a month to find some solution to this—I share your pain.” Rod Knight responded, “As citizens, it seems that we are getting caught between the city and Col. Roper.” A cursory inspection of Cielo Springs hydrants on Monday showed no visible signs on them.
Chamber of Commerce director Penny Thomas reported that the chamber board was to meet November 11 at Red Corral Ranch to plan for 2011 “and beyond.” She also announced that a Blanco Chamber Member Directory and Resource Guide will be printed in December and distributed at the January 27 annual banquet. Directors and volunteers will be honored at the banquet, which will feature “Dinosaur George.” Details of the meeting’s location will be released soon. Thomas also announced future events, including the Veteran’s Day Parade November 13 and a Blanco Economic Development Corporation meeting November 17 at 9:30 a.m. at the Blanco Library. Courthouse Market Days will be held November 20, and December 11 is the date for this year’s Tots Need Toys drive at Blanco United Methodist Church.
Blanco Police Chief Milton Willmann reported that October was an eventful month, with assaults, threats, and disturbances up. The department’s new database is helping acquire data on suspected criminals in a timely manner and is cutting down on department paper work. Two new officers, Mike Shaddock and Tammy Ross, recently received First-Responder Training and Statement Analysis Training, enabling them to better analyze suspect statements. Chief Willmann called it “a good investigative tool.” He also announced that the two Crown Victoria police vehicles approved in a special meeting have arrived and are being outfitted from DPS Surplus. “They are good cars,” he said. After Executive Session, council voted to hire a fifth police officer, to make police clerk Sandra Reyes a full-time employee, and to give officers a two percent raise, based on evaluations, effective January 1, 2011.
In other business, council voted to give property owner Mark Dobbins a one-time water bill abatement on a $1200 water bill for usage of 169,100 gallons caused by a hose left running on his property in his absence. Council also voted to give Keep Blanco Beautiful $1500 to help fund Christmas lighting. Council member Rebecca Howerton thanked KBB volunteers Barbara Dowdy, Pat Vallone, Judy Dorsett, Retta Martin, Armando Peña, and city employee Brendan Borne, for all their help. “They work very hard—not for themselves but for the City of Blanco,” she said. In response to a question to Retta Martin by Bobby Mcclung as to the cost for completing electrical infrastructure work, Nathan Cantrell said that the estimate was $6K. McClung responded, “We need for you not to have to use extension cords.” The goal of KBB is to have wiring throughout Bindseil Park to illuminate the large oak trees.
Finally, the proposal for a youth curfew died as council members expressed their belief that police officers in Blanco can use “police discretion” to question youths out at a late hour. Rebecca Howerton, said, “The police are within their rights to stop youths who are late, to offer them a ride. The police do not need another ordinance to enforce.” “I’m not ready to see a curfew yet,” said council member Al Turner, and council member Danny Ray seconded, “I don’t think any of us are. I think we should let the parents be the parents.”