Letter to Dripping Springs Mayor and Assistant City Attorney, March 9, 2017

March 9, 2017

City of Dripping Springs City Council Honorable Mayor Todd Purcell
511 Mercer St,
Dripping Springs, Texas 78620

Ms. Laura Mueller
Attorney at Law
Assistant City Attorney
City of Dripping Springs
511 Mercer St,
Dripping Springs, Texas 78620

Re: Site Development Permit – Mark Black Wedding Venue

Dear Mayor Purcell:

I write on behalf of The Friendship Alliance in connection with the City of Dripping Springs’ consideration of a pending site development plan application for the Mark Black Wedding Venue. The application proposes construction of two buildings for events, a front office and commercial kitchen with associated parking, sidewalk, septic system, private well water, and utilities located at Concord Circle, Driftwood, Texas.

The proposed site is located within the sensitive Edwards Aquifer recharge and contributing zones. Strict compliance with applicable water quality ordinances is required.

For all of the reasons stated below – and as presented to the City Council in writing at the public meeting on February 20, 2018, and later on March 2, 2018, and previously by way of a series of presentations and expert reports

(See Reports of Brian Dudley, P.E., Lauren Ross, Ph.D., P.E., and Jeff Kessel, P.E. The Friendship Alliance hereby incorporates by reference all its written submissions, presentations, and expert reports – and analyses of those reports – previously submitted to the City of Dripping Springs.)

– the issuance of a site development permit for the Mark Black Wedding Venue should be denied because such action will result in at least five if not more distinct violations of the Water Quality Protection Ordinance, and other laws, as follows.

1. Issuance of a permit will result in a prohibited material increase in storm water runoff into creeks and neighboring lands in violation of Water Quality Protection Ordinance Sec. 22.05.023;

2. Issuance of a permit will result in a prohibited material increase of pollutants into creeks in violation of Water Quality Protection Ordinance Sec. 22.05.015(c);

3. Issuance of a permit will result in a prohibited runoff from roads and parking lots into the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone of in violation of Water Quality Protection Ordinance Sec. 22.05.019(a);

4. Issuance of a permit will result in a prohibited construction of impervious cover downstream of water quality controls in violation of Water Quality Protection Ordinance Sec. 22.05.017, and;

5. Issuance of a permit will result in a prohibited failure to analyze phosphorous and oil and grease pollution in violation of Water Quality Protection Ordinance Sec. 22.005(c) (3).

In addition, required certifications for applications to governmental authorities by the Mark Black Wedding Venue are inconsistent and violate city and county ordinances as well as state law. Specifically, project plans approved by Hays County for the construction of the On- Site Sewage Facilities System (OSSF), including the site collection system, are inconsistent with the OSSF previously acted upon by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Edward’s Aquifer Group.

For example, the design set filed with the City of Dripping Springs and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is believed to identify totally different sewage collection systems than the system actually approved for construction by Hays County. The defect is fatal to the applicant’s position because the sewage collection system, as approved by Hays County, requires the applicant to develop an Organized Sewage Collection System Plan (OSCS) in compliance with Chapter 26 of Texas Water Code and 30 TAC 213 and 217, and applicable regulations, and submit such plan to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for approval.

The applicant has also declined to address material unexplained discrepancies in the volume of water to be used and disposed of by the facilities. These discrepancies are evident in project plans and applications submitted to Hays County, Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the City of Dripping Springs.

Estimates of water required, as specified in the HTGCD application – and the water usage and disposal rates in the Hays County OSSF application – are completely contradictory. The basis calculations specified are inconsistent. Assumption of domestic sewage rates do not include a demonstration or required basis for values provided for the proposed commercial kitchen. Moreover, no calculations are provided for estimating the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) load to the domestic treatment system included with the plan set from the wedding venues or the commercial kitchen.

These material deficiencies should be considered in the context of other troubling violations. For example, the applicant has failed to demonstrate that it obtained a permit necessary to a “taking” of an endangered species in the designated habitat of the proposed development.

According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, the proposed development lies well within the habitat of the endangered Golden-cheeked warbler (GCW). However, to the best of our knowledge at this time, the applicant has not demonstrated the required permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Nor has the applicant addressed the fact that bulldozing, construction, development, amplified noise, and loud parties typically contribute to a finding of a “taking”2 under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Activities within the habitat of the GCW, including activity that may disturb its habitat, are prohibited during the nesting season of March 1 through September 1. The Code of Ordinances requires proper collateral permitting prior to issuance of a site development permit.

2 The term “take” means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. Moreover, the term “harm” may include significant habitat modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering.

Apart from the serious deficiencies addressed above, please also respectfully accept this objection to the City’s decision to disallow a public hearing related to the completely new site development plan and design filed by the applicant after the February 20th public hearing.

Indeed, it was only recently discovered that the City Engineer privately informed the applicant before the February 20th public hearing of a request to defer City action on the application until March 13, 2018. The City Council – without informing the public on February 20th of the City Engineer’s request – granted it with the notation that no public hearing would occur on March 13th. By implication, the result is that continued material deficiencies and ordinance violations will not be addressed in a public hearing.

Unfortunately, the City’s position today is that it never needed to grant a public hearing in the first place on an application for site development permit, and that with respect to the proposed ordinance violations reported by the Friendship Alliance, the City can now decide not to allow resolution of continuing violations and engineering deficiencies in a public hearing.

Finally, the City also inexplicably extended the deadline it imposed on the applicant at the public hearing on February 20, 2018. At that time, the City – in response to numerous potential violations of ordinances – imposed a new deadline on the applicant to file a new, most- hearing site development design and engineering report. On the record, the City directed The Friendship Alliance to file a written response to the new report no later than the close of business on March 2, 2018. As we now know, the applicant effectively ignored the City’s request by filing a new report that failed to address any of the City Engineer’s questions.

On March 8, 2018, however, nearly a full week after The Friendship Alliance’s response was timely filed identifying these continued violations, the City inexplicably allowed the applicant to file additional expert reports after the deadline passed, all while insisting – in a significant change of the protocol announced on February 20th – that the Friendship Alliance would have only twenty-four hours to respond.

Such procedural irregularities – including ‘hopscotching’ from public hearings to nonpublic hearings with the result that important comments regarding potential violations of ordinances cannot be lodged – seriously interfere with the fair and proper application of the site development plan permitting process.

Respectfully, The Friendship Alliance reiterates its previous request for a public hearing on March 13th regarding issues of the City’s compliance or lack thereof with its ordinances.

For all of the reasons stated above, and pursuant Sec. 28.04.011 of the City of Dripping Springs Code of Ordinances, the application for a site development permit should be denied without leave for further continued opportunities to amend.

Thank you for your attention to this letter.


By: James M. Richardson