Austin Chronicle: True Love and Lawsuits in the Wedding Capital of Texas ‘Til death do us party

https://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2018-04-27/true-love-and-lawsuits-in-the-wedding-capital-of-texas/

All Gregory George wanted was some peace and quiet. In 2013, the 41-year-old former Texas General Land Office agent and his wife Staci bought a 10.8-acre plot just outside of Dripping Springs, in a development protected by residential-only deed restrictions. Their plan was to build their dream home and start a family. But that dream turned into a nightmare, George said, when his neighbors decided to open up a wedding venue right next to his new home. Now, he spends his days meeting with lawyers, and nights canvassing his property line with a sound meter.

According to George, his neighbor Jani Saliga came over three days before he poured the foundation for his house and told him she was planning to turn her existing home into a wedding venue. George was surprised: His property came with a neighborhood covenant that prohibited commercial business, and he was told by his real estate agent and his title company that it applied to the properties on both sides of his lot. Saliga, however, says she was unaware of any deed restrictions on her property. George went ahead and built his home adjacent to Saliga’s, on the highest point on his lot, sure the covenant would work. Saliga and her husband also proceeded with their plan, turning their home into what is now the Garden Grove Wedding and Event Venue.

When they began to host weddings in April of 2016, tensions escalated between the Georges and the Saligas. The weddings, which George claims sometimes include live bands that play until midnight, occur about 250 feet from his back porch. George and the neighbors who live on the opposite side of the Saligas’ property filed a lawsuit against them and Garden Grove to enforce the residential-only covenant in June of 2016.

Read more…

KXAN (NBC, Austin): Neighbors sue each other over wedding venue in Hays County

http://www.kxan.com/news/local/hays/neighbors-sue-each-other-over-wedding-venue-in-hays-county/1124606849

By Chris Davis

HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) – The owners of more than 12 acres of land in Hays County, who were recently sued by their neighbors over their occasional use of the house they built as a wedding venue, filed a lawsuit of their own this month against those same neighbors.

A judge ruled last October that Jani and Shon Saliga were allowed to keep renting out their home between Buda and Dripping Springs to host weddings. The couple filed a lawsuit this month against the neighboring property owners who sued them, alleging the neighbors are intentionally disrupting weddings held there.

Jani Saliga told KXAN she originally bought the land and built the home for her and her husband to retire to, and it wasn’t until real estate agents suggested it could be a venue that the pair turned it into Garden Grove.  Read more…

KVUE-Austin: Local wedding venue, neighbors in legal battle

‘I’m hostage on my own land’ | Local wedding venue, neighbors in legal battle

“I’m just waiting to be served any day,” said the homeowner.
Controversy has filled the air in the wedding capital of Texas.
Homeowners in Dripping Springs are fighting a back-and-forth legal battle with a well-known wedding venue off FM 967.

Read the rest…

Dripping Springs Century News: Mark Black Wedding Venue approved by city council

The City Council approved the Mark Black Wedding Venue at 130 W. Concord Circle in Driftwood at its Tuesday March 13 meeting.

Present for the council meeting were Mayer Todd Purcell, Mayor Pro Tem Bill Foulds, Council Member Taline Manassian, and Council Member Wade King. The venue passed by a vote of two to one, with Foulds and Manassian voting for, and King voting against. Not present for the meeting were council members Travis Crow and John Kroll.

Read the rest…

 

Hays Free Press: “Controversial Mark Black wedding venue approved by 2-1 council vote”

https://haysfreepress.com/2018/03/21/controversial-mark-black-wedding-venue-approved-by-2-1-council-vote/

After weeks of debate, the Dripping Springs City Council Tuesday approved a permit application for the Mark Black Wedding Venue by a split 2-1 vote.

Council member Taline Manassian and Mayor Pro Tem Bill Foulds approved the agreement, while Council member Wade King cast the lone dissenting vote. Council members John Kroll and Travis Crow were absent from the meeting.

Approval of the Site Development Permit Application for the venue was contingent on adding a note to the Water Quality Sheets regarding vegetative filter strips. Requirements called for a minimum 75 percent vegetative cover before final acceptance of the project and implementing additional cross-sections and details regarding temporary sedimentation ponds to its plans.

….

Prior to the vote, concerned residents of a neighborhood near the venue packed into Dripping Springs City Hall to voice their discontent. Dripping Springs City Hall Tuesday was at capacity, according to the Hays County Fire Marshal….

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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

c/o
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.

Sincerely,
RICHARDSON + BURGESS LLP

By: James M. Richardson

Commit now to safe roads, safe neighborhoods

From:
Carlos Torres-Verdin
President, Friendship Alliance

To:
mayor@cityofdrippingsprings.com
bfoulds@cityofdrippingsprings.com
tmanassian@cityofdrippingsprings.com
tcrow@cityofdrippingsprings.com
wking@cityofdrippingsprings.com
jkroll@cityofdrippingsprings.com

Dear Mayor Todd Purcell,
Dear Mayor Pro Tem Bill Foulds,
Dear City Council Member Taline Manassian,
Dear City Council Member Travis Crow,
Dear City Council Member Wade King,
Dear City Council Member John Kroll,

Regarding: Mark Black Wedding Venue

PLEASE WATCH THIS 15-minute VIDEO!

On Saturday, March 3, 2018, at 3 PM, Friendship Alliance (FA) conducted an organized live traffic study to assess the effects of vehicular traffic on Crystal Hills Dr. expected from the operation of the Mark Black Wedding Venue (MBWV). The study was conducted with 78 vehicles, which would correspond to approximately 50% and 25% of the vehicular traffic expected from the operation of 1 and 2 of the venues projected for the MBWV, respectively, without taking into account additional traffic due to vehicles to be used by staff, caterers, musicians, and other venue operators, competing weddings held at the Wizard Academy, or circumstances requiring.

https://youtu.be/Nc8oJJ-94sg

Previously, in January, 2018, we conducted a formal traffic impact analysis based on road counts over a 5-day period. Results from this January study are here.

However, the live traffic study serves for the important purpose of visualizing a partial projected impact of vehicular traffic on Crystal Hills Dr and confirms professional findings from the January, 2018 study.

Please take a look at the video and judge the traffic impact of the MBWV with your own eyes! Seeing is believing beyond the calculations.

What you see on the video should be multiplied by at least a factor of 2 to visualize what Crystal Hills Dr. would be like with the operation of one single wedding venue at the MBWV. Multiply that by 4 and then you can visualize the effect of two wedding venues in simultaneous operation (actually, a factor of 4 is a very conservative estimate because of the “choke” effect at FM 1826).

Some important observations:

Current time of travel from the MBWV entrance to FM 1826 is approximately 2 minutes without venue operations.
Average travel time with one venue in operation = approximately 10 minutes.
Average travel time with two venues in operation = approximately 20 minutes.
These times are conservative estimates during the time window when MBWV clients will be entering and exiting the venue.

What does it mean to anyone driving on Crystal Hills Dr during Fridays or weekends?

(1) You will be significantly delayed if you happen to drive during the time windows of ingress and egress of invitees of the MBWV.
(2) The safety of Crystal Hills Dr. will be significantly degraded because of the excess vehicular traffic during ingress and egress of clients of the MBWV. The video shows that sharp curves and blind curves become alarmingly unsafe with the excess vehicular traffic.
(3) The traffic already generated by Wizard Academy compounds the safety problems because of the narrow and sharp ingress and egress of cars into that facility. The possibility of MBWV clients egressing under the influence of alcohol consumption compounds the problems even more.
(4) You won’t be able to walk, jog, or bicycle on Crystal Hills Dr. during ingress or egress of clients of the MBWV because of the deteriorated road safety conditions.
(5) The intersection of Crystal Hills Dr. and FM 1826 will become a serious “choke” point that will also affect residents of Rim Rock.
(6) You will not be able to safely evacuate in the event of fire because Crystal Hills Rd. will become a long, static parking lot with the traffic generated by guests of the MBWV and neighbors attempting to evacuate.

What are the solutions to the above problems?

(1) Reduce the size of the MBWV so that Crystal Hills Dr. is safe to drive during ingress and egress of their invitees with the current road conditions.
(2) Improve and widen Crystal Hills Dr. before the MBWV starts its operations. However, this will only be a partial solution because of the “choke” point at FM 1826.
(3) Widen and improve the bridge on Crystal Hills Dr. at the intersection of FM 1826 before the MBWV starts operations. The northbound turn into Crystal Hills Dr. is too sharp and becomes too dangerous with the excess vehicular traffic.
(4) Place a traffic light at the intersection of Crystal Hills Dr. and FM 1826 to partially alleviate the “choke” traffic point at that intersection.

Conclusion

It is highly irresponsible to allow operations of the MBWV with the current design of Crystal Hills Dr. The MBWV needs to be resized to be consistent with the level of service and safety standards of Crystal Hills Dr. Business operations of the MBWV should not start until Crystal Hills Dr. is safe and enables expedient evacuation of neighbors and MBWV guests in the event of fire. Who will be responsible and accountable for accidents and loss of life if the current design of the MBWV is approved by the City of Dripping Springs, by Hays County, and by the State of Texas?

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank all the neighbors who participated in the live traffic study; they made a great difference in perception. Mike Dunmire and Carlos Torres-Verdin coordinated the preparation and execution of the live traffic study. Laurel Treviño organized and tabulated the times of travel submitted by most of the drivers in the study and measured the baseline times used in the calculations. Thanks to all!

Traffic Study: A Look at Existing Constraints of Crystal Hills Drive

Friendship Alliance engaged Dr. Siamak Ardekani, PhD, P.E. of University Texas at Arlington to provide Traffic Impact Analysis re: the Mark Black Wedding Venue project, Agenda Item F, for the City of Dripping Springs Planning & Zoning Commissioners on January 23, 2018.

Dr. Ardekani reviewed data (professionally gathered by GRAM Traffic Counting, Inc. )  and wrote this Traffic Impact Report  which was the basis for his presentation to the Commissioners, as below:

Fire safety, evacuation logistics, and the Mark Black Wedding Venue project

Cristian Granucci, City of Los Angeles Fire Captain and a resident of Goldenwood subdivision, spoke to the City of Dripping Springs Planning & Zoning commissioners on January 23, 2018 about evacuation logistics and fire safety as impacted by the proposed Mark Black Wedding Venue project. The project accommodates up to 600 wedding guest in two buildings. Hundreds of families already resident rely on a single 20-foot wide unlit winding county road as a sole lifeline to RR1826 in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Cristian Granucci has served 28 years in the fire department, with deep experience fighting wild land fires. As a resident who lives close to the proposed project, he has seen the dense fuel loads, including juniper trees, as well as the size and condition of existing roads that serve hundreds of residents.

His analysis of current conditions is certainly sobering.

Open letter to City of Dripping Springs Mayor and City Council, March 6, 2018

To: mayor@cityofdrippingsprings.com
bfoulds@cityofdrippingsprings.com
tmanassian@cityofdrippingsprings.com
tcrow@cityofdrippingsprings.com
wking@cityofdrippingsprings.com
jkroll@cityofdrippingsprings.com

Dear Mayor Purcell,
Mayor Pro Tem Bill Foulds,
and Councilmembers Manassian, Crow, King and Kroll,

We are concerned about the many issues still to be resolved re the Mark Black Wedding Venue (MBWV) project. Namely:

  1. Project plans most recently resubmitted by the Applicant to the City still do not address previously noted water quality ordinance violations. Recognized, professional engineering experts engaged by Friendship Alliance (FA) have shown that the water drainage/water treatment design of the MBWV continues to violate City ordinances and engineering design code adopted by the City itself. The City is compelled to comply with its own codes and ordinances, even if there is the threat of possible lawsuits by the applicant. The City should deny the Applicant its development permit because the latter has consistently submitted deficient engineering design and has not provided sufficient evidence of calculations and methods.
  2. The Applicant did not adequately respond to technical comments requested by the City and stemming from the technical objections raised by Friendship Alliance on February 20.
  3. The City Council should inform FA of any feedback given to the mayor and councilmembers by the City Engineer concerning the FA technical/engineering comments, in the same way the City informs the Applicant of comments received by FA. This communication should take place well before the City Council meeting on March 13, 2018.
  4. The City Council should allow public comments about the MBWV on March 13, 2018 because the Applicant has systematically failed to abide by city ordinances and professional engineering code. As long as unresolved issues continue to be unaddressed, the public and especially all affected residents should be allowed to freely express their views about the design of the MBWV and its impact on the neighborhoods and the neighbors who live there now, some of whom have lived in for up to 35 years.
  5. The City Council should allow public comments on March 13 about the MBWV by the recognized professional engineering experts who provided their feedback to FA.
  6. Health and safety issues re emergency egress on an inadequate road as shown by FA’s traffic engineer expert have yet to be resolved by the Applicant.
  7. The size (600-guest total capacity) and design of the MBWV are not consistent with Crystal Hills Drive and the spiritual makeup of the surrounding existing neighborhoods.
  8. The Applicant has not made any written commitments / concessions to neighbors concerns, despite the fact that his project will overload Crystal Hills Drive beyond accepted levels of vehicular traffic service, will impair any fire evacuation efforts, and will forever disrupt the peaceful and spiritual communities around his property.