Keep Blanco Beautiful representatives Judy Dorsett and Retta Martin accepted a check from HEB for $3000 at the December 14 city council meeting. The grant, written by Blanco Middle School science teacher Pam Meier, will be used for a composting project at the school, using organic kitchen scraps. The project will meet state educational objectives. HEB representatives Pedro Juarez, Robyn Inman, and Debbie Hanulik took the opportunity to inform the community about the new 112K square-foot HEB Plus store in Bulverde, which will open February 11. Hanulik explained that the sale of the reusable green shopping bags helps to fund local recycling efforts, over $50K across the state of Texas. Keep Texas Beautiful representative Cathie Gail thanked Keep Blanco Beautiful and HEB “for helping further our mission.”
Judy Dorsett also thanked Nathan Cantrell and the city for their help in providing infrastructure for the Christmas lights and expressed hope that more infrastructure would be in place next year. She reported a plan to have a decorating committee composed of two members from each city organization coordinating decorating efforts, with the goal of making Blanco part of the Hill Country Trail of Lights. She also informed council that KBB will focus on the historic pecan bottom in 2011, getting water there and planting more trees. KBB will apply for a TxDOT grant to fund their efforts.
Streetscape Committee chair Retta Martin reported that funding and marketing subcommittees have met frequently to plan funding strategies. Winter and Company has been selected to help develop the streetscaping master plan. A Memorandum of Agreement between KBB and the city of Blanco has been given to city attorney Eddy Rogers for study. The MOA would allow KBB, as a 501c(3) tax-exempt organization, to act as the receiving agent for funds raised.
Mayor Chuck Homan reported that a meeting with Cielo Springs residents resulted in a new pump being installed to increase water pressure and resolved some issues concerning hydrants in the subdivision. He also notified council that the planned construction of a new Stripes store in Blanco has been canceled because, in his words, “Stripes backed out of the deal.”
Blanco Chamber of Commerce director Penny Nichols reported that due to reduced HOT money coming in, advertizing to promote Blanco as a tourist destination will be limited. The chamber board has asked the chamber to weigh in on the signage issue, so members will be polled to get a consensus and report their findings to city council. The Blanco Economic Development Corporation will meet January 19 at 9:30 a.m. at the Blanco Library. Its mission is “to understand and get involved with the key trends that are shaping economic development opportunities in Blanco. “ To get involved, contact Joe Stewart at 830-833-0873. The organization is looking for a chairperson. The San Antonio Stock Show “Paper the Town” committee will be in town January 14, meeting at the chamber at 9:15 and will “paper the town” with information about the upcoming stock show. The chamber’s annual banquet is scheduled for January 27 and will feature Dinosaur George, a self-made entrepreneur. Tickets are $35 for members and $40 for non-members. Nichols also announced that the annual Real Ale ride will be held May 21.
Planning and Zoning Commission chair Dana LeBlanc reported that her committee heard a request for a sign variance from Blanco County Inn owner Ralph de Leon for a second time and denied it based on the current signage requirement of a maximum size of 32 square feet. In spite of the committee’s decision, LeBlanc said she personally thought the variance should be approved so that de Leon’s establishment is not discriminated against. Council member Bobby McClung asked her if, based on the fact that de Leon was “trying to make a point,” and that his desire is really to rescind the Blanco Luxury Suites’ variance, she still thought he should have a variance. She said that the city could give him a variance and then he could use it or not.
LeBlanc also said that efforts to revise the signage ordinance have been difficult, in spite of previous work done by P&Z and the Visionaries in Preservation group, because, in her words, committee members do not have ” the requisite skills” to come up with a new ordinance. She recommended taking the Dripping Springs signage ordinance and modifying it for Blanco, with the help of a city council member to get a consensus from other city council members after accessing the ordinance on the Dripping Springs website.
After the P&Z report, Ralph de Leon came before council for a second time to request a variance for a sign as large as the one which was approved for Blanco Luxury Suites. This time he presented a a drawing of a 10x12 foot sign with a height of 20 feet. He confessed to council members that his true intent is to get council to go back to Luxury Suites owner Bharat Patel and rescind the variance, or as he said to this reporter in a phone interview, “Please go back to him and undo this nightmare.” Using the same arguments as Mr. Patel had used, de Leon said travelers have an obscured view of his sign, based on trees and utility poles, and that they are going too fast to see his current sign. He added that his smaller sign creates a disparity between his motel and the Blanco Luxury Suites. Bobby McClung responded that the idea of proportion in signage refers to the ratio between the sign and the size of the building and has nothing to do with economic impact. He also said that the size of the sign has to do with the current speed limit; and finally, that variances are exceptions, and that everyone is not entitled to the same thing—variances are based on individual circumstances. Council voted unanimously to deny the variance. De Leon later told this reporter, “I do not hold the motel or Mr. Patel responsible —the city council approved it. While I think they made a serious mistake, I thank them because year after year they raise their hand and do the work. It’s not like hundreds of people are lining up” to do the work. He continued, “When I was on P&Z, we did a lot of work, and city council did whatever they wanted.” He referred to the UDC which stressed keeping the “small-town atmosphere” of Blanco.
In other business, council members approved water bill abatements for Sharon Davis and Leola Gourley, both of whom had water bills which were much higher than usual for a certain period. Davis reported standing water in her yard, which could not be explained by any investigation of water lines. Public works director Nathan Cantrell said his staff would take another look at it.
Police Chief Milton Willmann began his report with “a giant thank-you” to the citizens of Blanco for their response to Officer Tammy Ross, who has taken in five needy children. He said “The spirit of community is overwhelming” and called it “refreshing” to see the response of city staff and local churches to the unexpected addition to Ross’s family by providing food, Christmas toys, and other support. Chief Willmann announced the addition of a fifth officer, William Colston, who comes to Blanco from Comal County. He reported that the new police cars are on the road, and that call volume is down, although traffic stops and assaults are still a problem. “Tuesdays are our busiest days,” said Willmann. He also explained, in response to a question by council member Al Turner, that residents going on vacation can request periodic drive-bys by officers to check on their homes. Bobby McClung asked the chief how the 24-7 schedule of coverage is working out, and Willmann responded that it is working well, that officers appreciate the extra money for working 12-hour shifts and the fact that they work three days and then are off one, as well as having every other weekend off. He also said morale is high among officers. In January two officers will take a class to become field training officers, educating officers who come from other areas for training in various aspects of police work. After executive session, council members voted to remove officer Chris Martinez from probationary status and give him a pay raise. Finally, council voted to approve a resolution for the mayor, mayor pro tem, and city secretary to be signatories for the 2010 Community Development Block Grant.