Historic Preservation

Introduction

There is a common misperception that Historic Preservation is another attempt by government to control private property. That is not the case at all, rather it is about economic development, building on local assets to improve the overall economy of a community. As with all aspects of the comprehensive plan, there must be popular support for protecting the cultural assets of Blanco. This section of the plan identifies strategies for identifying and protecting those historic resources in the community to serve as a basis for improving the quality of life and economy of Blanco. It is important to consider that there are more historic assets in Blanco than just the downtown buildings. There may be historic farmsteads, other agricultural lands, the State Park, the cemetery, private homes, and other sites that have historic value and contribute to the overall character of Blanco. These assets should not be overlooked when implementing an historic preservation program.

This plan is geared toward community efforts rather than city government. Local government can be involved in developing ordinances and potentially providing funding assistance, but the bulk of the work to inventory historic assets and research applicable information will be the work of volunteers. These volunteers include members of the Historical Commission, Keep Blanco Beautiful, and Old Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society, as well as private citizens. The historic preservation focus group should have an on-going role in overseeing this effort and ensuring constant communication among the volunteers.

The projects identified for this plan are intended to Protect the heritage of Blanco through preservation of historic buildings and sites throughout the community and Utilize Blanco's heritage to develop tourism and related businesses in the community. The projects that will accomplish these goals are:

  • Develop an inventory of all historic buildings and sites in and around Blanco
  • Expand the preservation ordinance and become a Certified Local Government
  • Develop design guidelines for new construction and renovation for the entire community of Blanco
  • Prioritize properties in need of protection and develop a program to do so
These projects will ensure that historic assets in Blanco will not be lost; however, it is not intended as a top down regulatory program, rather it will work with property owners and provide them with resources to protect their buildings.

Projects

Develop an inventory of all historic buildings and sites in and around Blanco
In 1990, an inventory was developed for the downtown area in order to establish a historic district. This survey should serve as the basis for a community-wide survey to identify additional structures and locations that are in need of preservation. Volunteers are already moving forward with this effort and are meeting with representatives from the Texas Historical Commission to create a survey form and determine how best to proceed. The survey will begin with a "windshield" tour of Blanco to identify historic assets. Part of this survey will involve photographing each structure, identifying when it was built, the architect, etc. A video should also be produced highlighting historic structures and their history. Local residents can be interviewed to create an oral history of the buildings where possible. This can serve as a resource for the entire community.

Another opportunity is to create a walking tour of Blanco that would serve as a tourist attraction. The Chamber of Commerce can create a brochure highlighting the most historic properties and identifying walking routes to connect them. This brochure can then be distributed at tourism trade shows, local businesses, and other venues to highlight the attractions of Blanco. Implementing the pedestrian projects identified elsewhere in the comprehensive plan will help this become reality by providing safe access throughout Blanco.

Blanco Cemetery is another under-utilized historic asset. There has been some effort made to survey and identify historic gravesites. It is known that over 30 Confederate soldiers are buried there, as well as other historic figures. A complete inventory should be conducted to identify historic graves and a brochure developed to allow visitors to find those sites. Again, the Texas Historical Commission can be a resource in this effort.

By identifying and cataloging historic assets, Blanco can identify those in need of protection and work with property owners to do so. Also, because heritage tourism is so popular, visitors will come to see historic buildings and homes, and this will result in increased business in Blanco.

Expand the preservation ordinance and become a Certified Local Government
In order to establish the Historic District, the city had to adopt a preservation ordinance; however, the existing ordinance may no longer be appropriate. There should be an effort to research ordinances to identify "best practices" that could be applied in Blanco. THC has a model ordinance on their website that can serve as the first step in updating the current ordinance. In addition, volunteers should contact other communities that have established ordinances and identify what could be adopted from those cities that would benefit Blanco.

The Certified Local Government (CLG) program is administered by THC and provides a variety of benefits to participating communities. One of the primary benefits is access to funding for preservation programs. This funding can be used for establishing design guidelines and other needed projects. In addition, it will provide access to other communities facing similar challenges and allow networking to identify appropriate programs to implement to better protect local resources. THC will work with Blanco to assist the city in becoming CLG compliant and entering the program.

Develop design guidelines for new construction and renovation for the entire community of Blanco
Design guidelines often evoke concerns about overly strict regulation of private property. Some communities have taken guidelines to this level and have very stringent regulations on everything from building material to even paint color. It is not recommended that Blanco create guidelines that are this restrictive on property owners. Rather, the guidelines should be created in such a way that new development and renovations will result in buildings that match the existing character of surrounding buildings. These guidelines do not have to be mandatory, they can be voluntary, allowing building owners to opt in to following the guidelines. There may be an opportunity to provide incentives for building owners who choose to follow the guidelines.

The first step in establishing guidelines is research to identify what other communities have done. There are a number of websites available with model guidelines and other resources. This information can be found in the Resource Guide. Once a basic understanding has been established, a consultant should be hired to develop the actual guidelines. Funding can come from the CLG program, local sponsorship, and other sources to pay for the consultant. The consultant should be experienced in developing guidelines and have a portfolio available for review. The goal should be to develop appropriate guidelines that can be administered locally through the Historical Commission. Many communities utilize a "picture book" format that has images of appropriate design rather than cumbersome text descriptions.

Finally, there will have to be education and outreach to inform citizens of the new program. Building and business owners should be included in the guideline development process to ensure they support the recommendations. Also, before adoption, citizens should be informed about the guidelines and given an opportunity to comment on them. This will ensure adequate support for them and help with implementing the changes.

Prioritize properties in need of protection and develop a program to do so
All of the programs identified in this plan will result in enhanced protection of historic assets in Blanco. However, there will likely be a need for financial assistance to some building owners to allow them to improve their properties and protect their historic character.

The first step is to determine the current condition of historic structures as part of the survey. This will form the basis for prioritizing those properties most at risk for deterioration or even demolition. Once these properties have been identified, the owners should be contacted to determine their plans for the property. If possible, they should be encouraged to protect the historic assets. One way to do this is through financial incentives. A program should be developed that will provide assistance for property owners in protecting their buildings.

As with other aspects of this plan, the first step is research. Many communities have successfully established local funding sources for historic preservation. There are also a wide variety of grants available for this. The Resource Guide offers a starting point for identifying funding sources. Local options may include a low-interest loan pool that local banks can contribute seed money to start. Loans would be offered at a reduced interest rate and each bank would administer the loan on a rotating basis. Another option may be a grant program administered by the city. This could be funded through city government, or private funding sources. The grants could be relatively small, many communities provide up to $1000 for paint or other fašade improvements, so even a relatively small amount of money ($10,000) could go a long way. Volunteers will begin the process of identifying potential funding sources and contacting communities to identify how they fund historic preservation. Any assistance should be tied to the design guidelines, providing an incentive for owners to follow the guidelines in their construction or renovation.

Conclusion

The historic assets of Blanco serve to enhance the quality of life for residents as well as forming a basis for economic development. People want to visit authentic rural communities and experience real small town life. Blanco has that, it does not have to artificially create a downtown as many suburban communities are doing. Protecting these assets will benefit all residents through increased sales tax generation, as well as protecting the rural character. Historic buildings are a link to a shared past and are worthy of protection. Following the recommendations of this plan will allow these resources to be protected but also provide an economic benefit to the owners and the community as a whole.