On Jun. 3, the City of Dripping Springs put a stop work order on a portion of the Mark Black wedding venue, which is being built at 130 W. Concord Circle in Driftwood. The stop order was issued by a city inspector after he and a city engineer determined “the work being done did not match the approved site plan,” during a visit to the property.
From: Aaron Reed <areed@cityofdrippingsprings.
Date: May 15, 2019 at 8:42:06 AM CDT
I visited the site at Mark Black Wedding Venue yesterday afternoon. I arrived shortly after James Slone of TCEQ had left. TCEQ has put a stop to the dewatering of the foundation excavation which was leading to sediment leaving the site. The contractor is to submit a dewatering plan to TCEQ and it must be approved by TCEQ before any dewatering can continue. TCEQ will also be requiring the contractor to clean up the creek. I am not sure what the schedule is for that cleanup. For that information you will need to contact TCEQ.
If you have any other questions regarding this matter please feel free to email or call me at City Hall 512-858-4725.
Please understand that any citizen complaints must be directed through City Hall via email or phone so records can be kept.
by Robert Wilonsky, City Columnist, Dallas News
…. Frank had attached a lengthy Facebook post from Amanda Austin, owner of the Dallas Comedy House on Main Street, in which she detailed how the comedy club and improv workshop was getting the boot from her Deep Ellum digs by a carpetbagging landlord — Black Market Investments, out of Lockhart — wanting to sink yet another barbecue joint in the neighborhood. Austin would tell me later that she tried to keep the whole thing a secret, hoping it would be resolved to everyone’s benefit, till it became painfully clear her days were numbered….
Austin, who has two years left on her lease, has known for three months that her days on Main could be winding down. In mid-January she discovered her building had been bought by something called Black Market Investments — so named for Terry Black, a Lockhart CPA, and his children Christina, Michael and Mark Black. Michael and Mark also own Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin, so named for their dad after a legal tussle with their uncle Ken left them unable to use the original Black’s Barbecue moniker made famous by their grandfather Edgar Clarence Black Jr.
The lengthy letter alleged she was violating the lease by holding shows there. And by hosting classes and workshops. And by serving food and drink. And so on. The new landlords also alleged the building was one giant code violation. Kane’s letter said Austin had 10 days to fix everything or else. And so began the back-and-forth between Black Market’s attorneys and Austin’s lawyers.
On March 2, J. Michael Ellis, who reps Austin, told Kane that Black Market might want to reconsider its attempts to oust Dallas Comedy House for a barbecue restaurant. Ellis wrote that the Lockhartites’ “contrived efforts to remove Dallas’s largest and longest continually-active comedy theater from its space are unlawful, in violation of the Lease and represent a malicious scheme that will certainly interest the Dallas courts, local publications and the Dallas community.” Read more…
Dallas Comedy House owner says she ‘won’t be bullied’ by company trying to push her outDallas Comedy House owner Amanda Austin said the new landlord has been looking for alleged defaults in her lease for months, and she is now facing a termination of tenancy notice.
DALLAS – A Lockhart, Texas-based investment company is trying to push out a local comedy club from the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas, according to the comedy club’s owner.
Black Market Investments, the group behind Terry Black’s BBQ in Austin, bought the 6,800-square-foot space on Main Street in January, records show. Read more…
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.
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….
Press release: 12 March 2018
Despite overflow crowds at three public hearings—and a sustained, fact-based campaign by Friendship Alliance to document the dangers imposed by the project—the Dripping Springs City Council has rejected any further public input on the Mark Black Wedding Venue, scheduling its final vote for Tuesday, March 13th, at 6:30 pm.
“This is a disturbing sign,” says Dr. Carlos Torres-Verdin, President of Friendship Alliance, “that the City will bend to the pressure of an Austin business to approve a project that we contend violates the City’s very own ordinances.” The ordinances in question concern water quality, a critical issue given the venue’s location in the Edwards Aquifer recharge and contributing zones.
On several occasions in February, experts for the Friendship Alliance identified at least five engineering deficiencies related to water drainage and water treatment that put the venue in direct violation of Dripping Springs’ Water Quality Protection Ordinance as well as the engineering design code adopted by the City. The City Engineer, Chad Gilpin, requested that the applicant’s firm (Kimley-Horn) respond to these specific concerns. Recognized, professional engineering experts—Brian Dudley, P.E., Lauren Ross, PhD and P.E., and Jeff Kessel, P.E.—have determined that the newly produced materials from Kimley-Horn fail to address the deficiencies that we contend exist, thus, the project “remains materially out of compliance with the City ordinance[s] … listed.” (See the attached letter from Dr. Torres-Verdin and Mr. Dudley to Mayor Todd Purcell, which summarizes the specific findings in Dr. Ross’s and Mr. Kessel’s reports—also attached.)
A letter from Austin attorney James M. Richardson of Richardson + Burgess LLP, writing on behalf of Friendship Alliance, further details the violations that the Friendship Alliance contends would occur if a permit is issued —“prohibited material increase in storm water runoff into creeks and neighboring lands…; prohibited material increase of pollutants into creeks…; prohibited runoff from roads and parking lots into the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone…; failure to analyze phosphorous and oil and grease pollution”—noting as well the many troubling discrepancies in the project applications submitted to different regulatory agencies. There are, for example, “material unexplained discrepancies in the volume of water to be used and wastewater disposed of by the facilities … 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.”
Such inconsistencies in key baseline calculations and divergent designs in “required certifications for applications to governmental authorities” are serious and should trigger heightened scrutiny from the City, but there has been a notable lack of concern over these and similar “process irregularities,” according to Torres-Verdin. He asks, for example, “Why did Mr. Gilpin fully approve the project at the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on January 23, 2018 when our engineering experts testified not only then but several times afterward that there were serious deficiencies and irregularities in the site development plan?”
City oversight has been “perfunctory at best,” he continues. “It’s obvious that the City Engineer doesn’t have the time or bandwidth to carefully review site development applications, and to request and track the necessary changes to them.” The applicant has had the ability to take advantage of the situation, Torres-Verdin says, and, despite being “given three different opportunities to produce a design in regulatory compliance, they and their engineers have, according to experts, failed three times.” Friendship Alliance, on the other hand, has enlisted significant technical and legal assistance to mount a strong case against the wedding venue. “This shouldn’t be necessary,” says Torres-Verdin. “Very few citizens will have the knowledge or engineering or legal representation to stop a faulty engineering project from affecting their neighborhood.”
Friendship Alliance also commissioned its own study—two of them, in fact—to measure the greatly increased traffic that the wedding venue will bring and to document the tangible threats to life and limb owing to its location in the heart of three semi-rural neighborhoods, all of them sharing just one narrow road in and out, especially in the event of an emergency evacuation. “We’re concerned enough about the safety of our neighbors to do the research that the applicant—and the City—should have done,” says Torres-Verdin. Friendship Alliance marshaled evidence—“undisputed,” he points out—from Dr. Siamak Ardekani, Professor of Civil Engineering and nationally recognized traffic engineer, and City of Los Angeles Fire Captain Cristian Granucci, who has twenty-eight years’ experience fighting fires in the urban-rural interface that typifies the surrounding area. But, despite this evidence of the unsafe conditions that will prevail when the wedding venue operates at capacity, creating traffic “choke points” blocking fire and emergency vehicles along the single road in and out, neither the City of Dripping Springs nor Hays County nor the developer will commit to make any improvements to the road.
“It may be that, even in the face of all our scientific evidence, City Council members fear legal action if they don’t approve the venue,” Torres-Verdin hypothesizes in a nod to the development lawyer (Richard Suttle) whom the applicant has retained. And a developer’s threat of legal action usually works remarkably well in a town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, where political accountability is intentionally fragmented and spread so thin that it cannot serve as a check against the power that money buys. “But we want to remind Council members that state law also compels them to comply with—and to enforce—their own codes and ordinances, even in the face of possible lawsuits.”
“From the very beginning,” notes Torres-Verdin, “Friendship Alliance was told that the law is on the developer’s side. He can do whatever he likes with his property.” But, besides pointing out the harm to his neighbors’ own property rights and their enjoyment thereof posed by a large, busy, and noisy commercial enterprise bulldozed in the heart of long-established neighborhoods—several of them explicitly spiritual—Torres-Verdin also points out “the irony of it all. No, the law isn’t on ‘their side.’ At least some of it is squarely on our side—and on the side of the City Council if they choose to enforce those water quality ordinances, for instance.”
Ultimately, Friendship Alliance aims to hold all officials, City, County, and State, to enforcing whatever laws haven’t been designed precisely to “tie their hands” with respect to disputes between commercial and residential property owners—and, more broadly, to uphold their civic duty to preserve the safety, well-being, and rights of all 30,000 citizens within the ETJ, not just the 1,600 or so registered voters in the City proper.
Torres-Verdin insists, “Our fight against this particular wedding venue is not an isolated event. Honestly, everyone across Hays County should take heed, even if they haven’t been threatened just yet by a giant storage facility, or a big box store, or a pricey wedding venue going up next door.” The Mark Black Wedding Venue offers an urgent reminder that citizens living in an ETJ—a kind of unincorporated “Wild West”—must have better protection under the law and a more robust voice in the political process.
He concludes: “Enough is enough. The Applicant is taking advantage of the City Council—all of them unpaid for their efforts—and taking advantage of their future neighbors and fellow Hays County citizens.” In an area where development policy has systematically favored businesses over communities, Friendship Alliance aspires to “set a precedent with the City of Dripping Springs,” says Torres-Verdin, “to restore accountability and oversight of businesses that fail to respect either their neighbors or the environment.”