Mayor Bill Blackburn describes his walkabout as a way to get to know the city of Kerrville, but it’s also because he has a self-admitted nerdy streak when it comes to architecture.
For the last year, Blackburn, along with his friend, Jay Dozier, has been walking the streets of Kerrville to better understand the city he leads. It’s not uncommon to hear Blackburn draw upon his trips around town during City Council meetings.
“The purpose of the walks is to get to know the city better,” Blackburn said. “Walking a neighborhood is a great way to do that because you get what it looks like.”
With a street map that has been marked up by highlighter pens noting completed walks, Blackburn said he will walk all 240 miles of city roadway, and he’s more than halfway there. The walks are brisk and strategic.
He and Dozier usually go in the morning, covering about a mile or two at a time. That allows them to stop and look at houses, check out a pothole or visit with people, as he did during Monday morning’s walk.
“I’ve always had an interest in architecture,’’ Blackburn admits.
“It’s fascinating to me the styles of houses, the way they’re designed and the materials that are used.” The walk is pretty much down the middle of the street. Sidewalks aren’t really a thing in most neighborhoods — something Blackburn admits the city is examining.
The walkability of the city is important for Blackburn, who has made the walks one of the cornerstones of his first term in office.
“It’s expensive to put sidewalks in,” Blackburn said. “A lot of people don’t want the sidewalks in their front yard, but that’s an issue we’ve got to keep taking a look at.”
There have been surprises, an occasional stray dog and, on this day, a friendly cat that sauntered over to say hello.
“You see people who want to be around other people, and you see people who just want to be left alone,” said Blackburn, a retired pastor from Kerrville’s Trinity Baptist Church.
While this is not a surveillance operation, Blackburn does take note of the kind of cars on the street, how much stuff people are piling up on the front porch and how they maintain the yard.
The purpose is a reference point about how the community is doing and after years of pastoring, he’s not afraid to go knock on a door and say hello.
“You take a look at that home on the right, I’ve been in there,” Blackburn said.
However, Blackburn notes the city has often been lax when it comes to code enforcement and that he’s heard repeatedly from residents that the dilapidated homes are a problem.
“If there’s a place that is tearing down the value of our houses, or so neglected that there are health and safety issues, the city needs to do something,” Blackburn said.
The walks have reinforced the idea to Blackburn the city has to do more when it comes to developing workforce housing. For the last few years, Kerrville’s housing market has been among the most robust in the state of Texas, and lower priced properties are often snapped up.
On Monday morning, Blackburn and Dozier started their walk at Singing Wind Drive and Bow Lane. Blackburn had a pretty good idea about the route he wanted to take, but he brings the map along for good measure and reference.
“When I look at this neighborhood, I see stability,” Blackburn said. “You get a sense that people come and they are there for a long time. You’ve got the stability of the people who are there. You’ve got the stability of the houses. These are nice brick houses.
“One of the things we saw today is some newly built houses in the midst of all the others. I think we’re going to see more of that because there is a lot of land in the city to build.”
The housing in these neighborhoods is a mix of single family homes, duplexes and some apartments. Most of the homes appear to have been constructed in the 1960s, some in the ’70s and some even older.
It’s the mix of development — some newer, some older — that often fascinates Blackburn. As part of Kerrville’s 2050 plan, the city will attempt to tackle that same issue — the right housing mix. Blackburn is one who believes that certain parts of the city should have higher density, with smaller lots, but that doesn’t mean the home should be out of character with the community.
“We can see in some neighborhoods where there was a developmental plan and one street over there was no plan,” Dozier said as the two men walked. Blackburn cites several examples of small developments that are happening in the city, including one four-house development being built in an older neighborhood.
“These are not going to be cheap,” Blackburn said of the small development, which is advertised as being sold for more than $200,000. “But it’s a different look.”
Instead of the wide-open yards of many homes in Kerrville, this development definitely aligns with how Blackburn sees the future of a mix of quality construction and housing, but one that will feature smaller lot sizes.