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.

 

Tuesday March 13, 2018: Dripping Springs City Council to vote on site development permit application

A site development plan for Mark Black’s Wedding Venues (now “Black Ranch”) in the Goldenwood, Goldenwood West, Radiance neighborhoods (and for individual landowners along Crystal Hills Drive) is pending approval with City of Dripping Springs City Council in a council meeting on March 13 at Dripping Springs City Hall. Many thanks to the City Council for giving us all some extra time to work on this agenda item.

YOU MUST ACT NOW TO PROTECT YOUR PROPERTY VALUES AND WAY OF LIFE

    1. We ask the City of Dripping Springs: please enforce your own water quality ordinances to protect our water. If you have a well, whether as a sole source of drinking water or as a backup for your rainwater catchment system, etc., you know the important of protecting your clean water supply!
    2. The Mark Black Wedding Venue / Black Ranch project proposes two large wedding venues with a total capacity of 600 people, with vehicles and buses clogging our two-lane county road. Many wedding venues typically run more than one wedding per day. Black Market Investments LLC has millions of dollars in loans to pay back. Do the math.
    3. No consideration is being afforded to your reduced property values. What you can do now: get your home and property appraised now to establish baselines valuations, prior to beginning of construction of the Mark Black Wedding Venue. Contact your HOA or POA re: getting a bulk rate on appraisals. Most appraisers will drop their fees if there are multiple appraisals in the same neighborhood.
    4. Hundreds of extra cars, plus commercial trucks etc. on Crystal Hills Drive, a county road so narrow it cannot be legally striped with a center line. There is no legal requirement for Hays County to widen Crystal Hills Drive to deal with this added traffic. In case you want to share your thoughts with our county officials re this road:
      Transportation Director Jerry Borcherding jerry@co.hays.tx.us phone (512) 393-7385,
      County Commissioner Ray Whisenant Ray.Whisenant@co.hays.tx.us phone (512) 858-7268,
      Development Services Director James “Clint” Garza james.garza@co.hays.tx.us
        phone (512) 393-2150.
    5. No consideration for additional traffic load during an emergency evacuation of residents using Crystal Hills Drive in the event of wildfires: all of this is entirely legal. Fire Chief Scott Collard of North Hays County Fire and Rescue has literally signed off on this project. Chief Collard recommends “sheltering in place” if you can’t get out. In case you want to share your thoughts about your safety and your family’s safety with him: scollard@northhaysfire.com  phone (512) 894-0704.
    6. Huge commercial operation with loud, amplified music impacting our neighborhoods and families, including at night.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Join the Friendship Alliance’s opposition:

Tuesday March 13, 6:00pm-9:00pm
Public hearing: City Council chambers
City of Dripping Springs City Hall
511 Mercer Street
Dripping Springs, TX 78620

Some facts at a glance:

Who: BLACK MARKET INVESTMENTS LLC
208 North Main St.
Lockhart, TX 78644

Members: Terry Black, Christina Black, Mark Black, Michael Black

Where: MARK BLACK WEDDING VENUE (also called Black Market Wedding Venue and now apparently “BLACK RANCH”)

Proposed for: 130 West Concord Circle, Austin, TX 78737, impacting Goldenwood, Goldenwood West, Radiance, and other neighborhoods

What: 2 event buildings capable of hosting 300 guests each for a maximum total of 600 people onsite
+ assorted staff (caterers, setup and breakdown crews, office support)
+ 3000+ square foot commercial kitchen
+ administrative office building
+ 1 well
+ 1 On-site Sewage Facility
+ 2 parking lots: approximately 153 parking spaces at Venue A and 136 at Venue B, and since one venue alone may accommodate up to 300 guests and up to 300 cars. Thus overflow parking can be expected on naturally vegetated areas affecting water quality control devices and fire lanes.
+ Wedding DJ music (noise)
+ Live bands (more noise)
+ Aerial Fireworks (noise/fire hazard and no commitment not to use)
+ Reduced property values

Rebuttals to common misconceptions about the Black’s proposed project, including rebuttal to “it could be much worse.”

“The Blacks say they have been meeting with neighbors and are responding to neighbor concerns.”

Answer:
The Blacks showed a presentation to some neighbors at the Driftwood Volunteer Fire House on 27 July 2017, informing attendees of this project. Neighbors voiced concerns after the presentation. These concerns still stand–they are neither addressed nor resolved.

There has been one listening session in 2018 by Terry Black, Mark Black and Mike Black, resulting in zero commitments, in writing or otherwise. Concerned homeowners and property owners sharing common boundaries with the Black’s parcel have outstanding concerns and no fruitful, meaningful dialogue with the Blacks.

“Be happy it’s not a 200-house residential development.”

Answer:
Superficially plausible but actually wrong and in fact illegal. The entire 64-acre parcel lies either in the Barton Springs Contributing Zone or Recharge Zone (even more stringent rules). The maximum density for any residential development on the Black’s land would be 10-15 houses by law: 10% impervious cover for the entire tract, or about 6.4 “paved acres” is the maximum allowed.

“Be happy it’s not a cement factory or pig farm–it’s only an event venue.”

Answer:
Superficially plausible but actually wrong. The amount of engineering required to keep everything on 6.4 paved acres and observe water protection rules (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) would make a pig farm or cement factory economically unfeasible to operate. No banker in his or her right mind would loan money on a business plan with those parameters; the return on such an investment would be far too long. And the project itself has two buildings at 300 guests each (600 total), each building could easily be used for several events per day.

“You can’t do anything. The laws aren’t on your side. Just give up.”

Answer:
We have been doing things from 27 July 2017 up to this point, and the Blacks do not have their permits yet. Those could have been had August 2017.

We have found multiple flaws in their processes (engineering 1, 2; public notification, etc.), all along the way. We are still committed to working with the City of Dripping Springs to forge a written commitment from the Blacks. We have all legal means at our disposal to register our dissent with this project. We are still working to get unresolved issues addressed sensibly, properly and effectively.

“I like barbecue.”

Answer:
Do you like the possibility of drunk drivers close to your home and family and pets? Like the idea of escalated wear and tear on our narrow county-maintained road? Do you go for a walk (maybe with your dog) outside in your neighborhood with no sidewalks? Are you sensitive about property values? Thinking about additional fire hazards? Emergency evacuation complications? The Black’s have applied to TABC for a liquor license for their 600-guest event venue. You will undoubtedly be sharing your neighborhood and its roads and connectors with people who have had alcohol to drink.

“I am too busy to deal with all this.”

Answer:
The lives and property and value you can protect are your own. What are those truly worth to you? We have been advised, and now we do need as many people as possible to show up at Dripping Springs City Hall. Bring a neighbor who may be unable to drive at night. Bring your kids or the neighbor’s kids, and show them what civil engagement and public participation in our great nation’s political process looks like. It’s Civics Class 101 only real.

“Roy and Penny Williams run Chapel Dulcinea wedding venue, and everything is fine so far. What do you have against wedding venues?”

Answer: Chapel Dulcinea and Tuscan Hall (and Wizard Academy) are well-run.

Talk to our neighbors (some with infant children) affected by the Garden Grove Wedding Venue who can’t even sleep in their own houses with the doors and windows shut–every single weekend–because of fireworks, live bands, wedding DJ music and more. These affected homeowners lost their first lawsuit and are now on appeal. We all need good neighbors. We need livable neighborhoods. We need homes that feel like homes, and not, as one neighbor said recently about Garden Grove, feel “like a warzone.”


Friendship Alliance community organizing meetings are hosted by Radiance Foundation, a 501(c)3 Texas nonprofit directly affected by its proximity to the Black’s Wedding Venue project. Its building, the Radiance Dome, has been the home of silent meditation for more than 30 years. As you can guess, silence and wedding DJ music and live bands and fireworks definitely are not compatible. We are grateful for their donation of meeting space.

Dripping Springs neighbor next to wedding venue writes in

We received an email full of bracing information. Thank you, Mr. Simanton, for writing to Friendship Alliance. We appreciate your time, and we are grateful for your insights. In full:

Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 4:06 PM

I was at the Dripping Springs City Council meeting last night [February 13, 2018] to support your efforts to control the development of a large wedding venue in your neighborhood.  I had planned to speak if needed, but it seems you had quite a few folks wanting to speak.

But, you may ask, who am I and why do I want to support you and speak out on your behalf?  I do not live anywhere near your neighborhood, nor do I really know anyone in your neighborhood other than the nice folks I met at the council meeting.

I want to support your cause because I have painful, first-hand knowledge of what happens when a wedding venue moves into your neighborhood.  Two wedding venues opened up near my land.  One is next door to my land, the other is a little over half a mile away.  So I have experience with both very close and nearby wedding venues.  I don’t want others to suffer the way my neighbors and I have.

Here is what you can expect:

1. Noise.  Remember those quiet weekend nights where you can sit on the porch and look at the stars, listen to the breeze in the trees, hear the sounds of nature?  I say “remember” because you will no longer get to enjoy those nights.  Even if the venue close to me is not having an event, the one further away is still so loud we can hear music, yelling, hooting, hollering, traffic, car alarms, arguments in the parking lot, buses backing up, loud bass noise bumping through your bones…I could go on.  Again, that place is half a mile from me, over a hill, and it is STILL loud.

Even after we sued the venues to keep all their music INSIDE (the suit is still ongoing) and they have mostly complied, you still get the bass noise, which travels for miles.  And of course you get the yelling, the hooting, hollering and general idiocy of drunk city folks out in the country.   How many cars will there be?  Each one will give you the “beep-beep” or “honk” whenever someone locks or unlocks the vehicle.  Buses and trucks will beeep-beeep-beeep when backing up, and some back up for a loooong time.  I recorded one that had the backup alarm going for over 5 minutes.

A side note on noise:  Like most venues, Mark Black has promised to keep it “under 85 decibels”  Why is this?  Because 85 decibels is a criminal statute.  They THINK that they can legally do anything up to 85 decibels with no repercussions.  But noise at 50 decibels 200 feet from our house can easily be heard inside our house, quite loudly.  85 decibels is like someone running a chainsaw 10 feet from your head.  It is LOUD.  Call them out on this when they mention the 85 db number.

2. Drunks.  What do people do at weddings?  They drink.  A LOT.  They get loud.  They yell.  They hoot.  They argue.  They fight.  They break bottles on the road.  And they drive, while drunk, on your roads.

3. Traffic.  Buses LOVE to block roads.  For some reason, bus drivers think it is perfectly acceptable to load, unload or even park right in the middle of a road.  Sometimes they pull a little off to the side so you can get around them, where you cannot see oncoming traffic.  Sometimes they park in front of your mailboxes, or your driveway.  Or they turn around and run over plants and things on your property…but if you aren’t there to see it and take pictures, you have no proof.

Then there are the hundreds of cars.  They tend to drive and park where they please.  They love to rev their engines, especially the city kids with 4WD trucks when they encounter any kind of hill.  And they are often piloted by people who have been drinking.  Don’t let your children go anywhere near the roads on weekends.  Don’t jog or walk your dogs along the roads on weekends.  And hope your animals don’t ever get out of the fence.

4. Strangers.  I think this actually bothers me the most.  What good is a neighborhood and knowing your neighbors when HUNDREDS of complete strangers are allowed to invade your neighborhood each week?  They don’t care about your neighborhood.  They litter, make noise, destroy property and then have the audacity to yell at you to be quiet when you try to mow your lawn on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
And they trespass.  We have good fences, signs and gates, yet we still have “adventurous” wedding guests come on our land and even try to get in our house.  Maybe they do just want to “pet the donkeys”, but in my experience, city folks have little respect for rural property.  Sheds and cabins on our property seem to be a magnet for bored wedding guests, often of the teenage type.  (Admittedly, I was probably like this when I was a teen boy, so I know how they are.)

I could probably come up with even more reasons to fight a venue nearby, but I think this is enough.  Note that these are only 150 person (next door) and 250 person (1/2 mile away, over a hill) venues.  I cannot imagine how disturbing a 600 person venue would be.  You have my sympathy, and you have my help if needed.   …Please share this email with the Friendship Alliance, you may post it on your web site if you wish.  If possible, have someone read at least an excerpt from the list above to help convince the council to delay the permit until Mark Black et al has addressed all of these issues.  I’m convinced that there are probably good wedding venues that do respect their neighbors, but my experience is not proof of that.

You can never get your peace back once it is gone.

I wish you the best.

Regards,
——————–
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Dripping Springs, TX 78620