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Planning and zoning, it’s more than just a look

By Bev Barr BCC Editor

Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Bandera City Council met together for a joint workshop Monday night to discuss ways to improve communication and effectiveness within the commission, with one another, with other city and county boards, citizen groups and other stakeholders. The representatives who attended the meeting listened attentively and respectfully while each person took a turn sharing their well-considered ideas, observations and opinions about the role of the P & Z Commission and its challenges.
Councilwoman Toni Kunz set the tone of the workshop by acknowledging that the people who serve on the P&Z Commission and on other citizen-committees and service boards are volunteers, even if they are appointed or elected. She summed up the reason it is worth spending the time and effort to articulate clearly and accurately the function of the P & Z Commission with a handbook succinctly, saying, “We want to set people up for success — not failure.”
Tom Laxson, who serves on the P&Z Commission, was the first to discuss his impressions of what the P & Z Commission should focus on. He said that since he first moved to Bandera in 1981, the primary concern is the same, which he summed up as “back to basics.” Laxson said it was important for the commission to figure out an effective way to deal with how the town looks, specifically for the P & Z to come up with a way to prevent a prevalence of trashy looking signs, or just plain trash.
“I never get through picking up litter,” Laxson said.
The sentiment or idea that the P&Z Commission needs to be able to make recommendations to the city council that will result in city council actions that make Bandera a visually appealing town — one in line with the city’s master plan — was a common thread throughout the discussion.
Larry Haddad, also on the P & Z Commission, described the need to condense and clarify the ordinances as one of the top priorities. As it is, some ordinances create confusion because of lack of clarity and some even have conflicting information. The commission also needs to “ask the right questions,” Haddad said. For example, the commission needs to ask questions that lead to assurances that safety measures are in place, or that a commercial enterprise or business proprietor has really thought things through.
Patricia Moore, also on the P & Z Commission, agreed with her colleagues and underscored the need for clarity and accessibility. She said that a consumer (business or resident) needs to be able to go to the website with a basic question and be able to find the answer. “Clear, intelligent guidelines,” she said. “. . . User-friendly.”
Councilman Justin Knight said that the disconnect between the state designation and the city designation is unnecessarily confusing and needs to be fixed to that it makes sense to the general public. According to Knight, and others at the workshop agreed, that even something as seemingly straightforward as whether a property is zoned for commercial or residential use, is confusing. He pointed out the elevated risk of error in appraisals, which is what dictates property taxes. For example, a “residential” property that is zoned “commercial” may be appraised incorrectly, and visa versa. There is universal consensus that zoning and the maps associated with zoning need improvement. This is something that will be addressed with the firm Stewardship Solutions.
Councilman Glenn Clark shared some thoughts about the scope of The Historical District and the necessity of examining historical zoning in the context of the master plan and the needs of a modern day town. There was general agreement in that buildings with historical significance need to be identified. Clark shared his frustration with the litter problem, too, specifically mentioning Styrofoam pellets blowing around and cigarette butts piling up on sidewalks near benches.
The group discussed some planning and zoning success stories found in other cities, such as Fredericksburg and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and considered in what ways some of those efforts could or could not translate to Bandera.
Councilwoman Kunz suggested that a “campaign” that convinces individuals in the community to be responsible with self-governing behavior is more likely to succeed in Bandera than by passing laws or ordinances that the city cannot afford to enforce.
Mason and Rochelle Hunt were among the community members present and commended the council and thanked them for installing new hitching posts and a fresh water trough at the end of Cypress Street. This led to a brief and general discussion about horses being left in trailers or at a hitching post for a number of hours. Hunt said there are many opinions about horse care and he made it clear that his opinion was not the authoritative one, but that he thought about and compared the conditions now with the way horses were treated in the past. He didn’t see a problem leaving a horse tied to a hitching post, but leaving horses in trailers for extended periods of time in the summer might need to be looked at. He said we’re moving in a horse-friendly direction.