When asked what was the "best thing about Blanco" in the mail survey, the vast majority mentioned the small town atmosphere, rural character, or similar responses. Blanco's proximity to Austin and San Antonio will result in growth, which can lead to a loss of the small town qualities so many residents appreciate. In order to preserve the character of Blanco, the community needs to ensure that growth happens on local terms, not on the terms of developers. It also means the city must be willing to update and enforce its ordinances to protect quality of life for all residents. By preparing for growth now, the city will be able to dictate what happens in Blanco and what the community will look like in 10 or 20 years. Without preparation now, the city may be overwhelmed by growth and lose the qualities that have attracted so many residents.
To address the concerns identified above, this group, in conjunction with the city will need to Update and enforce ordinances to maintain the appearance and rural character of Blanco and Protect the small town, rural character of Blanco as growth occurs.
The City Council has already taken steps to achieve part of the goal to update and enforce ordinances. At the September 2004 Council meeting, the city formalized a timeline and standard policy for dealing with ordinance violations. Rather than leaving it to the discretion of the police department, the city now requires action within 30 days, or additional enforcement occurs, resulting in appearance before municipal court. This commitment from city government shows that they have heard the concerns of residents and are working to address them. Other projects that should be undertaken include:
- Continue consistent enforcement of all ordinances
- Comprehensive review of all ordinances related to land development, nuisance, etc. to determine if they are appropriate to current conditions
- Update and add new ordinances to address changes in community priorities
- Educate the public on all ordinances and the importance of enforcement
- Provide funding and staff to maintain public property
The second goal is more challenging. Protecting the small town character of Blanco in the face of expected growth pressures can be challenging. The following projects will prepare Blanco for this growth and will ensure it occurs on local terms rather than being dictated to Blanco by developers. The projects include:
- Review and update the Subdivision Ordinance to ensure appropriate development standards
- Develop a Zoning Ordinance that is appropriate for Blanco
- Consider the hiring of a City Administrator to manage day-to-day city operations
- Develop an annexation plan to identify those areas most suitable for incorporation into the city
- Ensure adequate infrastructure to meet growing demand
- Preserve open space, including agricultural lands, as appropriate to maintain rural character
This will be a challenging effort and should not be undertaken lightly. However, the citizens have made it abundantly clear through the entire public process that these are needed in Blanco.
Continue Enforcement of All Ordinances
As mentioned, the city has already taken steps to improve the enforcement of nuisance ordinances by implementing a timeline for action rather than leaving it to the discretion of the police department. This will improve the efficiency and effect of the ordinances and improve the appearance of Blanco. It will also reduce charges of selective enforcement that can arise when residents feel they have been singled out for enforcement.
Another concern is animal control. Currently, there is not a formal policy on animal control. In the event of a nuisance animal, a police officer, and occasionally staff from a local veterinarian's office respond to the animal. Because there is no facility to take these animals, there is little that can be done. If ordinances are going to be implemented, it will be critical to have staff and facilities in place to provide for this effort.
Comprehensive Review of all Ordinances
Now that enforcement has been addressed to a large degree, it will be important to review the ordinances to ensure they are adequate to the needs of the community. One area that has been identified is the possibility of regulating the placement of manufactured homes in the city limits. Where these are located can be regulated even without having a zoning ordinance. The city can prohibit the siting of any mobile home built before 1976 within the city limits. Homes built after 1976 are considered manufactured homes and they have to be allowed. However, where they are placed can be regulated, so the city can designate an area for manufactured homes and require them to locate in that area. The Future Land Use map designates two areas for manufactured homes, one in the northwest area of town, near an existing manufactured home park, and in the southeast, also in an area with many existing manufactured homes. The city already regulates issues such as requiring screening, etc. to improve the appearance of manufactured homes. The city may also choose to require homes to be fixed to a foundation, which will enhance the quality and value of those homes. It will also minimize the impact they have on surrounding properties. Many manufactured homes are attractive and well-designed and can actually enhance a neighborhood, especially if they are replacing deteriorated "stick-built" homes. However, the city should ensure that they are adequately regulated to protect the quality of life and appearance of Blanco.
Update and add new Ordinances
Once a comprehensive review is complete, it may be necessary to update the city's ordinances to reflect new priorities, laws, etc. New ordinances may also be necessary to address new issues facing Blanco. One area that received attention at the public meeting and in the mail surveys was the need for controlling light pollution. Dripping Springs has an ordinance regulating outdoor light fixtures, particularly on commercial buildings and street lights that reduces the light that shines off of the intended area. This process should be handled publicly to ensure that residents have an opportunity to be involved and comment on proposed changes. Before moving forward with this process, the city should look to other communities to see what they have done. This is not to say that Blanco should adopt "cookie-cutter" ordinances copied from other communities, rather these can serve as a starting point. If a community has ordinances that are successful in maintaining community appearance, they should be reviewed for their relevance to Blanco. This can reduce the costs associated with updating ordinances, and provide language that has already been reviewed and supported.
Once the ordinances that require updating and needed new ordinances have been identified, there should be a series of articles in the newspaper detailing the proposed ordinance changes. This should be followed by a public meeting to present the proposed changes and get citizen feedback. A citizen group may be created to work with city staff and the City Attorney in writing the updates and new ordinances. This will ensure that the citizens are provided an adequate opportunity to comment and be involved. This will reduce conflict and enforcement issues once the new ordinances are implemented. Once the ordinances are finalized, another public meeting should be held to introduce the final product. Again, citizens will respond better if they are given an opportunity to be involved and be heard. The comprehensive plan is a basis for these changes, and should be cited as justification for the changes.
Educate the Public
If the process outlined above is followed, residents will have an understanding of the ordinance updates and justification for them. This should dovetail into a process of educating the public about why the ordinances were updated. One of the key aspects is to explain how community appearance, including manufactured homes, junk cars, etc. impact property values for all residents. If properties are well-maintained and attractive, all nearby residents will benefit. Appearance also plays an important role in economic development. When business prospects visit Blanco, appearance has a tremendous impact on their decision making. If they see unkempt properties, weeds, trash, etc. they will be much less likely to want to relocate to Blanco. This is especially true in community "gateways" where visitors will get their first impression of Blanco.
If the public understands the importance of appearance on so many aspects of community life, they will be more receptive and supportive of ordinance enforcement. This may also result in greater voluntary compliance as property owners begin to understand the negative impacts their property has on their neighbors and the community as a whole. Finally, property owners may not realize that what they are doing is prohibited, especially since enforcement has been an issue in the past. By providing broad outreach, all residents will begin to understand why ordinances are important, how they benefit the community, and how they will be enforced.
Provide funding and staff to maintain public property
While this is not related to ordinances, it is a critical aspect of community appearance. It is critical that the city provide adequate staff and funding to maintain all city property and rights-of-way (ROW). This will benefit neighbors adjacent to these properties by enhancing the overall appearance of their neighborhoods. Also, it will encourage them to maintain their own properties. If the city is going to enforce appearance and nuisance ordinances, it is critical that the city set a high standard for appearance of its own properties.
The city should also provide access to bulky trash removal to assist property owners in disposing of materials. There is currently an annual Keep Blanco Beautiful -- Don't Mess With Texas Trash Off Day as part of the Great American Clean up where large items are collected for disposal. This program began in 2000 when Blanco joined the Keep Texas Beautiful program. Since then, it has expanded and has resulted in tons of appliances, junk cars, and other trash being removed from Blanco. Blanco is an affiliate of the Keep Texas Beautiful program due to the hard work of local volunteers who make this effort so successful. Another benefit for Blanco has been county funding for two recycling centers in the city, one of which is at the middle school. This option allows residents to recycle materials rather than adding them to landfills.
An additional opportunity may be to allow residents to bring large items to the city yard for disposal. This may be during regular business hours any day, or offered on a regular basis. Any items requiring "tagging" before disposal can be required to be tagged before bringing to the city. This would allow residents who may be facing ordinance violations to address the issue at the time, rather than waiting for Keep Blanco Beautiful day. Blanco recently held a Household Hazardous Waste Collection day in conjunction with PEC and LCRA. This should become a regular event to allow residents to dispose of these types of materials.
Another aspect is enforcement of animal control ordinances. The city should ensure adequate staff and facilities to minimize loose animals in the city. This may require additional staffing at the police department for animal control, as well as a community or regional animal shelter to control the animal population. As mentioned, the current system relies on police officers and veterinarian clinics. The city should reach out to Johnson City and Blanco County to explore the possibility of creating a county-wide animal control facility. There is a coalition in Johnson City that has a similar goal of developing a shelter. This group should be contacted to determine if a partnership is feasible so Blanco can benefit from access to an animal control facility. Potentially, the cities and county government could contribute for salary and facilities for a county-wide animal control officer and shelter. This would replace the ad hoc system currently being used in Blanco and benefit the entire county. It would also save costs for any one government that wanted to provide this service for its residents.
Review and update the Subdivision Ordinance to ensure appropriate development standards
The subdivision ordinance provides for the "platting and replatting of land into subdivisions within the City of Blanco and the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the City of Blanco." Because it has authority within the ETJ, the ordinance allows the city to have some influence on development outside the city limits. The ordinance regulates such issues as lot sizes, building setbacks, right-of-way (ROW) dedication, street and curb construction requirements, utilities, and other issues. There are several areas discussed below where the ordinance can be updated to ensure that development occurs in the most beneficial way. The community development section discusses in detail updating the ordinance to require park and school dedications when land is developed. This should be seriously considered by the City Council to ensure adequate provision of land for schools and parks.
One issue in the subdivision ordinance is the requirement for a minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet. This is a concern for several reasons. The first is that there is limited availability of housing at a cost available to many residents. Requiring nearly _ acre lots increases the costs of housing significantly. This means developers are not able to build homes at an affordable cost to area residents. Another issue is the added cost of infrastructure to these large lots. Lots of this size will require longer water and sewer lines, roads, electrical utilities, etc. to serve. This again drives up the cost for the developer, making the homes more expensive. It also leads to higher maintenance costs once the utilities are deeded to the city. Larger lots also lead to more land being developed for fewer homes. This leads to more undeveloped or agricultural land being built over. There is significant vacant land within the city limits; however, much of it is not large enough for a developer to subdivide into 10,000 square foot lots. This results in requests for variances, and other issues. By lowering the lot size, this can be avoided. If the city moves forward with a zoning ordinance, this issue would be addressed within the different zoning categories defined in the ordinance. Each zone would have its own lot size rather than defining a minimum city-wide.
The future land use map identifies an area that would be appropriate for a "garden" home type development, in which homes are built with zero lot lines, or minimal yards. These types of homes are becoming much more popular with older homebuyers, and young families. Often, they incorporate public open space, including golf courses, or parks. This type of development also offers the opportunity to address concerns with affordable housing which is discussed in more detail below. While it may seem counter-intuitive, requiring larger lots may actually lead to a reduction in the rural character of Blanco. Requiring higher densities will preserve more undeveloped land, creating more open space and rural feel.
If Blanco does not create a zoning ordinance, it is recommended that the city reduce the minimum lot size for residential development to 6,000 square feet, with the potential for even smaller lots. This lot size would allow for a 50' by 120' lot, which is common for many subdivisions. Another option is to set a minimum size for each residential unit, such as 3,500 square feet. This would allow a developer to put a duplex on a larger corner lot. The City of Cookeville, TN allows duplexes in its single family zone but requires a minimum lot size of 5,000 sq. ft., which means duplexes are allowed on 10,000 sq. ft. lots. Durham, NC has a similar option with a 3,000 sq. ft. per dwelling unit minimum for duplexes and 5,000-sq. ft. for single family. The city may also consider allowing higher densities for builders who agree to make a percentage of the homes available for those below the median income. The City of Livermore, California allows for higher densities for builders who set aside a minimum of 20% of new homes for those making 80% of the median income. The benefit is that the higher densities bring down the costs and increase the number of homes sold, which allows the builder to still make a profit while offering some properties at a lower price to the buyer. Builders that set aside 20% of the homes for low-income residents also qualify for Low Income Housing Tax Credit which can reduce their federal income taxes. If the city is not willing to lower the minimum lot size from 10,000 square feet, it could keep that standard, but allow smaller lot sizes for those developers who agree to set aside a higher percentage of land for open space or schools, or a percentage of homes for lower income residents.
Mixed income developments are gaining in popularity across the country. The Housing and Urban Development Administration has budgeted 4.5 billion dollars over 10 years to demolish "public" housing projects and replace them with mixed income neighborhoods. The Enterprise Foundation (a non-profit housing assistance group) has compiled a report based on 13 studies that supports mixed income developments. These developments are beneficial for a number of reasons. One is that it reduces the stigma associated with traditional public housing. Also, it provides incentive for lower income residents to maintain their properties because their neighbors do. Finally, locating the homes in a strong neighborhood will help owners build equity in their homes and improve their financial standing. Developing a "garden" home subdivision would open an opportunity for a mixed income neighborhood because the city could trade smaller lot sizes and higher densities for a percentage of the homes being reserved for moderate income homebuyers.
The city may also choose to take a more active role in helping to provide lower cost housing. This may include identifying properties with unpaid taxes that can be acquired by the city. These can then be made available to Habitat for Humanity or the Capital Area Housing Finance Corporation which can then provide low-cost housing. This approach results in privately owned homes that are an asset to the community rather than vacant lots with unpaid taxes. Also, it allows the city to assist with the provision of housing without becoming a landlord or trying to take responsibility for managing housing.
A new style of subdivision is growing in popularity: the "conservation" design or clustered subdivision. This type of development clusters the homes on small lots on one area of a property, leaving the majority undeveloped. This reduces infrastructure costs and provides public open space. Illustration 5-1 is an example of this type of development. There are several ways to do conservation subdivision design. Rather than using standard lot sizes and configurations, the developer is allowed to place the same number of homes that would be allowed using standard design but place them on smaller lots. The developer can build the same number of homes that would be allowed with a conventional design, but place them on smaller lots with at least 50% of the property reserved as open space. The process is similar to a typical golf course development which begins with designing the golf course and laying out the homesites around the course. A conservation subdivision would begin with the same approach of identifying the most appropriate areas to preserve and siting the homes around those features.
Adjacency to open space has a significant impact on property values, so builders can sell lots for a higher cost which can offset the potential economic loss of smaller lots. Quality design and home placement can increase value as well. Also, since there are reduced infrastructure costs, the developer often ends up with a higher profit on this type of development which increases the likelihood that a developer would be willing to build. As seen in Illustration 5-1 this type of development may be rated as more "rural" in character than a traditional large lot subdivision.
Another area that can be adjusted is the building setback requirements. Currently, all non-residential buildings have a 10 foot required setback, when not adjacent to residential uses. Also, in the residential areas, there is a 25 foot setback, which if the lot size requirements are reduced, would be too far. The setback requirements should be reduced to encourage houses to be built closer to residential streets. This has been shown to increase activity in neighborhoods and bring people out of their homes to interact with their neighbors. Also, it can increase neighborhood safety by putting more "eyes on the street" as people use front porches, etc. Sidelot setbacks can also be reduced on the sides of homes without windows. By allowing homes to be placed closer to the lot edge, it can open up more space in the yard rather than creating two essentially useless side yard strips. Because the homes are placed with non-window sides adjoining, the feeling of being "on top" of the neighboring home is reduced.
An additional area where changes could be made is in Section 9 -- Variances. Currently, this section is very brief and only states that variances are allowed only when it can be shown that complying with the ordinance would cause undue hardship due to some unique feature of the site. This is vague and leaves room for challenges. The City of Fredericksburg has a very detailed list of what conditions warrant a variance and the process for applying for one. Blanco should consider adopting a more detailed variance policy to minimize the possibility of legal challenges. This would not take away the city's ability to grant a variance, rather it would clarify when a variance is appropriate.
Develop a Zoning Ordinance that is appropriate for Blanco
Blanco adopted a zoning ordinance, but it was voted out soon thereafter. The public input process has shown that residents strongly support reinstating zoning in Blanco to protect the community from uncontrolled growth. To ensure that zoning is more successful this time, the city will have to develop the ordinance in close coordination with all citizens to ensure they understand why zoning is being established and what the benefits to Blanco will be. The first step in implementing zoning is the future land use map, created by participants in the Land Use workshop. This map shows where different land uses, such as commercial, multi-family residential, industrial, etc. will locate as Blanco grows. This map forms the basis of the zoning map and ordinance.
A steering committee should be created to guide the process and ensure day-to-day oversight from a citizens group. This steering committee may be made up of members of the comprehensive plan steering committee, developers, property owners, and others who will be affected by the ordinance. This group should work with the City Council to develop zoning categories based on the future land use plan. These can be very specific, with multiple categories for residential, commercial, etc. or they can be more general.
At the very least, there should be the following categories:
- Multi-Family -- Units of more than four units per building, apartments
- High Density Residential -- Small lot single family, duplexes, townhomes
- Single Family Residential -- Detached single family homes
- Manufactured Home
- Retail / Office
- Agricultural / Open Space
These categories will each have regulations governing the use of the property to minimize land use conflicts. One option that some communities are using is inclusive zoning, which means that any less-intensive uses are allowed in a particular zone. This means that a single family home can be built in a multi family zone. The drawback to this is that it can result in homes locating near existing businesses which can lead to conflict. Business owners may be hesitant to locate their business in an area where residential development may occur in the future, because of the possibility that there will be complaints.
Once a draft of categories has been established, there should be an educational process to inform residents about the proposed zoning. This should involve multiple newspaper articles, a series of public meetings, and outreach to individual groups. This education should be that zoning is intended to preserve quality of life and property values. While it may result in limits to individual property rights, that is outweighed by the community benefits of zoning which include protection of property values by minimizing land use conflicts. Also, existing land uses will be grandfathered, so if someone has a residence in a commercial zone, they will not be forced to move once zoning is adopted. The outreach should also give residents an opportunity to comment on the proposed categories and identify additional or more appropriate categories to use. These public meetings should continue throughout the process of creating the ordinance to allow citizen input at all levels. Many aspects of the zoning ordinance should be developed with citizen input to ensure that the standards of the ordinance reflect the needs and desires of the residents. A "top down" approach to zoning will be unsuccessful. It cannot be drawn up by the city leadership in a vacuum; the citizens must be involved throughout.
One of the biggest areas of concern with zoning is what happens to a grandfathered use in the event the building is damaged or destroyed, or it requires renovation. For example, a residence located in a commercial zone suffers a fire. Most zoning ordinances define a percentage of damage under which the structure can be rebuilt as is. If the damage is over the percentage (e.g. if the value is $100,000 and it requires $75,000 to rebuild), it may be rebuilt only with the provision of a conditional use permit. Most ordinances also set a monetary limit on how much can be spent on renovating a grandfathered use. Any improvements above that amount will require the use to change to the allowed use in that zone. This can be very divisive because residents will be concerned that they may lose the right to use their property as they wish if it is located in the "wrong" zone. This issue will require on-going discussion and input from residents to ensure the standards address resident concerns.
Finally, the zoning ordinance will have to be written and adopted. Most zoning ordinances include a Zoning Map, Zoning classifications, and a Schedule of Uses. These three sections lay out what is allowed by ordinance. Writing the ordinance will require on-going legal assistance to ensure it meets all required standards. Once adopted, the city will need to create a Planning and Zoning Board to serve an advisory role in zoning cases. It will also have to commit to enforcing the ordinance fairly and consistently in all cases. Because it can be so divisive, residents and developers may look for opportunities to attack the ordinance, and if Council is not consistent in enforcement, it will open the door for costly legal challenges.
Adopting a zoning ordinance is a challenging process; however, it can be tremendously beneficial to Blanco. It will serve to regulate how growth occurs and allow the city to manage this growth. Also, it can help to protect property values for all residents by minimizing incompatible uses. Finally, prospective businesses may be more willing to locate in Blanco because of the assurance their investment in land will be protected. Without zoning, businesses may suffer encroachment from residences that lead to complaints about noise, traffic, lighting, etc. Businesses are more comfortable locating in areas where they know that similar uses will locate.
Consider the hiring of a City Administrator to manage day to day city operations
Currently, the city is run by a small staff and an active City Council. It would be challenging to implement many of this plan's recommendations, especially zoning, with the current limited staff. At the public meeting, there was significant support for hiring a City Administrator and City Planner to help manage Blanco's growth. In a community of Blanco's size, much of the planning activities could be done by the City Administrator, so the city would not have to hire both at this time.
The city should review its budget and determine if there is funding available for a City Administrator position. One option may be to hire a part-time Administrator, as the City of Lexington did for quite some time. There are consultants who serve as part-time City Administrators bringing experience and expertise to the position in a more affordable way. This may be an opportunity for the city to bring in expert assistance without the cost of a full-time employee. If the city hires a part time administrator, it would be more appropriate for this person to focus on managing city operations while the Council took a lead role in creating policy and implementing this plan. In the long run, the city will have to find the resources for a full-time position in order to best manage the city and implement this plan.
The city will need to develop a clear, well considered job description to ensure the Administrator has a clear understanding of the job duties and responsibilities. The City Council can obtain job descriptions from other communities as a model for Blanco's. The City Administrator can be responsible for code enforcement, employee supervision (although City Council would still be responsible for hiring and firing employees), financial recommendations, etc. which would relieve the pressure on City Council to do this work in addition to their full-time jobs. A City Administrator would also help reduce the politics of running the city because it is a professional position rather than an elected one. The Administrator would help provide oversight for employees, allowing them to focus on their jobs by taking care of the big picture of managing the city. There is discussion underway about the possibility of hiring a part-time Administrator at least as an interim measure. This would provide oversight of day-to-day city operations and staff, while allowing City Council to take responsibility for implementing the comprehensive plan. If the position is full time, the Administrator can also be responsible for leading the implementation of the comprehensive plan, thereby ensuring that projects identified here are addressed.
Develop an annexation plan to identify those areas most suitable for incorporation into the city
Blanco is limited in its annexation ability because it is a general law city with population below 5,000. Because of this, the city can only annex those areas adjacent to current city limits that request annexation, unless the city is currently providing utilities to the property. Despite this limitation, the city should develop a plan for annexation to ensure those areas most suitable are prioritized for annexation and the city is prepared to provide services to newly annexed territory. There are currently two areas under consideration for annexation, the Cielo Springs subdivision, and the area north of town on Hwy 281 where the Real Ale Brewery is being built. If landowners request annexation, the city can annex both of these areas.
The future land use plan identifies those areas most suitable for growth. These areas, particularly those slated for commercial or industrial development, should be the priority areas for annexation. This is because residential development typically does not provide adequate property taxes to support needed services. Once the city identifies those areas, property owners can be contacted and educated on the benefits of being in the city limits.
The city should consider the infrastructure needs of a property before determining annexation. If a property would require sewer lift stations, etc. that would be very expensive, the city may want to postpone annexation until there is more funding available, or there is an opportunity for significant development of the property that would benefit Blanco. The annexation plan should serve in conjunction with zoning and the future land use plan to guide Blanco's growth and its investment in infrastructure to manage this growth.
Ensure adequate infrastructure to meet growing demand
Blanco has taken steps to upgrade its water infrastructure and ensure adequate supply to meet expected demands. The city recently built a waterline to Canyon Lake, securing additional surface water to reduce dependence on the Blanco River. This shows that the Council is preparing for growth and positioning the city to be able to handle it. As growth occurs, the city should review its water treatment capacity and plan ahead for expansion as population grows. The city should set a benchmark at which additional capacity will be required, and once the population closes in the city should begin to plan and budget for the additional capacity. This may include additional elevated storage, additional treatment capacity, or additional raw water supplies. The city currently charges tap fees for new development to help offset the costs of infrastructure improvements. This should continue so the burden of paying for added capacity is supported by the development that requires it.
Sewage capacity is another area that requires significant planning and funding for expansion. The city currently is at 69% capacity of the existing treatment plant. Given growth in Cielo Springs and elsewhere, the city should begin the process of identifying funding sources and planning for sewer treatment expansion over the next few years.
Water and sewer pipelines are another major area of concern. Aging waterlines can result in leaks, costing the city money, and major breaks, which can lead to loss of service and major repair costs. Old sewer lines also have a high tendency to break and allow influx of stormwater which can overwhelm the treatment capacity. This leads to overflows and spills which can harm local waterways and result in heavy fines for the city. The city should review all of its water and sewer lines and develop a prioritized list for maintenance and replacement. This list can be used to obtain additional funding from the state and federal governments. If the city is planning to replace lines under streets, it would be very helpful to schedule that in accordance with street maintenance.
One option the city can pursue to help address water issues is to encourage rainwater harvesting. This water could be used for residential lawn maintenance and similar uses which would significantly reduce water demand from new residential development. The city may offer reduced impact fees for development which incorporates rainwater harvesting. This would encourage developers to add this as an option on their homes. Hays County offers a one-time property tax rebate for rainwater harvesting systems.
Street capacity and maintenance is another critical issue. Well-maintained streets will increase safety for all residents and visitors. It will also make Blanco more attractive to prospective businesses which may require regular truck traffic, etc. Blanco should utilize the future land use plan to identify where growth is expected and plan street improvements accordingly. Also, the city should consider establishing a regular pattern of maintenance. The city could be divided into zones and improvements made in one zone per year. This would ensure regular maintenance across the city and reduce the image that only certain streets ever get fixed. An additional aspect of street capacity is the connectivity of new development with existing streets. The current subdivision ordinance has street alignment requirements that ensure that new streets have adequate and safe connections to existing roads. This should continue to minimize any negative impact on traffic flow from new developments.
Adequate infrastructure is crucial for Blanco to thrive. Current residents deserve high quality utilities, and prospective residents and businesses will gauge Blanco on the quality of its infrastructure. Businesses will not locate in a community with limited water or wastewater capacity, or poorly maintained streets. By ensuring adequate infrastructure, the city will be positioned for growth and will not be left in a position requiring major investment on short notice.
Preserve open space, including agricultural lands, as appropriate to maintain rural character
The community development plan discusses in detail updating the subdivision ordinance to require developers to set aside open space in their subdivisions. This will help maintain open space throughout the community and provide recreational opportunities for all residents. However, the rural character of Blanco is created by more than just neighborhood parks; it is the agricultural lands in and surrounding Blanco. Efforts should be undertaken to protect the most valuable of this land from development to maintain the heritage in Blanco.
The first step should be to identify those agricultural lands that are most appropriate for protection. These would be lands in areas that may not be suitable for other types of development, are in areas where they have minimal negative impact on surrounding properties, and those that are simply prime agricultural lands. Once these are identified, the city can begin to develop a plan to protect these lands.
If the city adopts a zoning ordinance, these lands can be zoned for Agriculture, thus making any future development require a zoning change. This would at least offer the city an opportunity to minimize development on prime agricultural lands.
Another option would be to work with area land trusts, such as the Guadalupe Blanco Land Trust, to develop a purchase of development rights program. This program would allow area farmers to receive income beyond farming from their land by selling the development rights. This would protect them from rising property values and development pressures as Blanco grows as well as increased taxes as adjoining property develops. A related program is transfer of development rights. This would allow developers to build at higher densities in those areas identified for development, if they agree to protect land from development elsewhere. The cities of San Marcos and Austin have programs in place that focus development in the most suitable areas, while protecting those deemed sensitive.
The list of projects associated with growth management may seem overwhelming at first glance. There are a number of things that are recommended to address citizens concerns with a changing Blanco. However, it is critical to understand that this is a ten year plan. Not everything has to be done in the first year or two, particularly the more challenging projects, such as developing an agricultural land protection plan. These can be accomplished down the line, as the other more critical pieces of the plan are accomplished. The Implementation Guide for this plan will have a prioritized list of projects, based on citizen input.
Blanco will grow, it is critical that preparations be made now to deal with that growth. If Blanco waits until growth is knocking on the door, it may result in Blanco being overwhelmed as has happened to other communities in proximity to large cities. By following the recommendations in this plan, the city will have the tools in place to protect the heritage and quality of life so beloved by residents.