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.


    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:

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

New board members for Friendship Alliance in 2017

A mighty big thanks to the men and women who have served on the board previously! Rob Baxter, thank you. Brian Dudley, thank you too.

For continuing to serve, we thank now our current at-large Board members: Dixie Camp and Neil Carman.

Welcome back to Jonathan Steinberg, one of the original board members of Friendship Alliance. He is back for more! He is our institutional memory in addition to being our third at-large Board member now.

We are pleased to announce these officers added to Friendship Alliance Executive Committee: Carlos Torres-Verdin as President, Terry Shaw as Vice President, and Jeanine Christensen as Secretary.

The Future Rolls Toward Dripping Springs — Riding Bulldozers and Money

by Amy Smith and Rob Curran
(Original story at: Austin Chronicle on September 21, 2001)

[….] Admittedly, the Goldenwood and Radiance neighbors seldom followed the municipal affairs of sleepy Dripping Springs, largely because they felt removed from local politics, living 12 miles outside of the city but still within the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. “We were asleep,” a Goldenwood resident acknowledged. “We found everything out after the fact, and then we had to work backward to figure out what had happened.” After the initial shock wore off, the residents of the three communities hunkered down and got organized. They began meeting with Stephen Clark, the Cypress developer, and the two sides say the meetings have been cordial and somewhat productive. Clark, for example, says he’s about 90% sold on the idea of requiring native-plant landscaping for the development and about 50% convinced that a rebate-incentives program would encourage prospective residents to install rainwater-harvesting systems on their property. “They’re so nice,” Clark says of his new neighbors. “When they ask me to do something it’s hard to say no.”

Not everything is going as smoothly as Clark suggests, however. The residents, for example, feel strongly that the project should have third-party oversight, while the developer feels just as strongly against. At any rate, until he secures environmental clearance from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Clark says he’s uncertain whether he’ll develop according to his existing plans — plans that call for a subdivision of single-family homes, townhomes, some commercial property, a school, and the project’s prized jewel: a 27-hole golf course.

The Cypress project has also caught the attention of area environmentalists: Not only is it the largest of some 19 platted developments planned for northern Hays County, it sits directly atop the heart of the Edwards Aquifer — the porous recharge area where water seeps below ground to Barton Springs, the main drinking water source for 45,000 residents in northern Hays and southern Travis counties.

While neighborhood leaders say Clark has been willing to meet with them and consider their concerns, Dripping Springs officials have been less responsive. Rob Baxter, president of the Goldenwood Property Owners Association, said he and a group of residents had rather boldly asked the council to rescind and revise the agreement so it would be more palatable to all sides. The council declined. “Nobody likes to be told that they’re doing something wrong,” Baxter says.” But that’s what we’re doing, and that’s what makes us unpopular.” Radiance resident Roger Kew makes no excuse for the group’s unpopularity: “We feel as residents that the council members had a duty to safeguard our interests. They did not.” [….]

Go to the full story:

Belterra Applies For Sewage Discharge Permit

Hays-Belterra WCID, the Water Control and Improvement District for the Belterra subdivision, has applied for a TCEQ Permit to discharge treated sewage effluent directly into Bear Creek. This is unprecedented in our area because the creeks and streams directly recharge our two major aquifers, the Trinity and Edwards, the sole water source for tens of thousands in this area. For those of us on wells in the area, this is a direct threat to our health and our home values. For those living along Bear Creek, it is also a real threat to their quality of life, since many of them swim and recreate in the creek and will no longer be able to do so safely. If this permit is approved, the precedent will be established and untold numbers of developers will undoubtedly try to Permit their wastewater plant discharge into creeks throughout the Hill Country.

There are other effluent handling methods available, such as re-use and irrigation, which is what Belterra originally espoused in their initial plans. They are apparently seeking this Permit in order to increase treatment capacity as well as increase the build-out of their 290W holdings. Please understand that once the Belterra WCID has this Permit and moves forward, the California-based real estate company pushing for this, Capital-Pacific Holdings, Inc., will someday be gone and likely no longer involved with the comings and goings of this WCID.

The link below is a PDF version of the Belterra flier that is formatted to print in large scale.

A door-to-door effort was made on Saturday April 1 to inform Belterra residents of the concerns of downstream residents.


Rainwater Harvesting book author to speak 15 October

Stephen Colley, AIA, USGBC, Co-Author of the newly updated third edition of “The Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting” will offer an overview of rainwater harvesting, with Q&A to follow. This talk is open to residents and property owners in Radiance, Goldenwood, Goldenwood West and membership of Friendship Alliance.

1:30 – 2:30 pm
15 October 2005
at the Radiance Dome

Storm Ranch deal is sealed

Dear FA Friends, Neighbors and Members,

Someone, somewhere, somehow, should knight George Cofer, Director of the Hill Country Conservancy. And while at it, send them a check. Please read on.

>From the Sunday Statesman.

The road to preservation, less traveled After five years, Storm Ranch deal is sealed between family and Hill Country Conservancy.

By Stephen Scheibal AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF Monday, August 08, 2005 In the waning days of a hot summer and hotter economic boom five years ago, a group of environmentalists, developers and business leaders rallied around a 5,700-acre ranch they all wanted to save.

The Storm Ranch had Hill Country views as dramatic as its name. It was the perfect launching pad for an audacious five-year plan to raise $300 million, enough money to wall off giant swaths of the environmentally sensitive region from development.

Then came the bust. Then came Sept. 11, 2001, and war. Then nine-figure fundraising goals drifted into hallucinatory memory, and the conservation coalition was left to scrap for $10 million ? just enough money to preserve Storm Ranch as it is.

The coalition, known as the Hill Country Conservancy, turned a corner last week when its leaders and the Storm family completed a deal that will protect nearly half of the terrier-shaped ranch in Hays County between Dripping Springs and Wimberley.

The $4 million that the conservancy raised and paid the family does not buy the land. Rather, it seals a contract that locks in very strict restrictions guaranteeing that the land will remain free of any significant development, particularly the strip centers and subdivisions that are spreading across the Hill Country.

In coming months, the conservancy hopes to raise $6 million more, most of it in federal grant money, to buy development rights over the rest of the Storm Ranch.

The ranch is the largest land tract in the Barton Springs watershed, a 371-square-mile zone that funnels water into an aquifer that feeds Austin’s iconic swimming hole and provides habitat to the endangered salamander that lives there.

Both buyer and seller celebrated the closing, calling it a conquering of a dismal economy and so much red tape that Texas’ senior senator had to help hack through it.

“There were a lot of places where people could have easily and quite legitimately given up,” said Robin Rather, an environmental activist and the conservancy’s vice president. “Every time we felt like we were about to get over the hump, some new complication would come up. . . . A lot of people thought it would never happen.”

The milestone also represents a very different beginning from the one five years ago, both for Storm Ranch and for efforts to save land like it. But, all sides emphasize, it is a beginning.

Intact heirloom

On Storm Ranch, $10 million will buy, most precisely, nothing.

The money will not change the hills, lush with grass and dotted with trees, that roll away from the rise at the heart of the ranch.

Nor will it put a new owner in place of Lynn Storm, a petroleum engineer by training who invented an oil drilling device and used the considerable spoils from it to assemble the land in the 1950s and early ’60s.

Storm is 90 now. He still drives guests around his ranch in a massive GMC Suburban, surveying the land’s contours and treasures the way other people look over family photos.

But the economy of urban growth treats farms and ranches as assets, not heirlooms. Already, the Storms must pay big property tax bills. At some point, they will face an even bigger inheritance tax payment.

The family has sold corners of the ranch in the past to cover obligations. In the future, the Storms would probably have little choice but to carve up the land and sell swaths of it to developers.

Unless, of course, they could find someone who could pay them to keep their ranch intact.

“We were going to keep the place,” Storm said, “one way or another.”

As the Storms evaluated their options nearly a decade ago, the Hill Country Conservancy coalesced to build on the $78 million that Austin voters approved for conservation land in 1998 and 2000. The money helped the city preserve about 20,000 acres of open space.

The ranch’s size moved it toward the top of Austin’s priority list, but the city didn’t want to cover the full amount by itself.

The conservancy’s leaders, plucked from factions that had long warred over development in environmentally sensitive areas, looked for a quick acquisition to show potential benefactors that the effort was a serious one. The group and the family soon cemented a partnership that would meet both sides’ needs with a tool seldom used in Central Texas.

Using what is known as a conservation easement, the Storms would keep the land, and the conservancy would pay them a fraction of the land’s value not to develop it.

Neither side thought it would be easy. But no one expected it to be as hard as it was.

The wait is over

Just after the conservancy launched its fundraising effort, private money began drying up in the region’s economic downturn. The group turned to the federal government, which had money for land conservation and was eager to help preserve Storm Ranch.

But then officials realized that intricate legal wrinkles might disqualify the project from receiving any money at all. To the Storms and the conservancy, the delays seemed interminable, occasionally hopeless. Lynn Storm and his three children, any one of whom could have scuttled the deal, vowed to hold out as long as they could.

“It was a year and a half dead in the water, where everybody was beating their heads against a wall trying to solve a seemingly insoluble problem,” said Scott Storm, who also signed off on the easement with his sisters Lynne Storm and Anne Geis. “It’s extremely hard to get anyone to finally make a decision or interpretation of any of those kinds of issues.”

A number of agencies ? Austin and the Lower Colorado River Authority among them ? contributed money for the first $4 million phase of the project. The range of contributors, combined with the project’s nontraditional nature, added to the challenge, said Bob Pine, supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Austin office.

“The fact that everybody was willing to persevere through all that just goes to show how important this is,” Pine said.

Even U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison wrote to federal regulators trying to clear the blockage.

Still, a few anxious conservancy board members repeatedly considered walking away from the partnership and moving on to something that might prove more productive.

Finally, a federal lawyer signed off on the deal, and it began to move forward.

Last week’s closing does not mark the end of the process, not for the Storms and certainly not for the conservancy. The group has received nearly $2 million more in federal money and has applied for $3 million on top of that. The sum, with additional donations, would extend the conservation easement to all of Storm Ranch.

From there, the conservancy expects to raise more money to preserve more land in the Hill Country, relying heavily on conservation easements while pushing preservation initiatives at City Hall and the Travis County Courthouse.

Over the past five years, the group has accepted a donation of conservation land on Lake Austin and aided the city in some of its land purchases. While conservancy officials have pursued other deals, they have had little time or money for anything outside Storm Ranch.

The Storms will start fixing up the barns, roads, fences and fields that fell into disrepair while the family waited for the deal to close.

Lynn Storm said he is most excited about finally being able to clear cedar trees off his property.

“It’s fun to work on something,” he said, “when you know you’re going to whip it.”

sscheibal@statesman.com; 445-3819

Saving Storm Ranch

The Hill Country Conservancy raised $4 million to limit development over nearly half of a 5,700-acre ranch in Hays County. Here’s how it works:

The agreement: Known as a conservation easement, it strictly limits dense development, or the addition of roads and other forms of pavement, on 2,283 acres of the ranch. It allows some public access by school groups, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and utility companies, provided the activities don’t interfere with ranching operations.

The money: Austin contributed nearly $1.5 million for the conservation easement. State and federal officials added $1 million, as did the Lower Colorado River Authority. Other contributors include the Houston Endowment and several surveyors, lawyers and other real estate professionals who contributed their services.

The future: Both the Hill Country Conservancy and the Storm family say they would like to extend the conservation easement over the entire ranch. That would probably require an additional $6 million, most of which the group is trying to raise from federal grants and matching money.

more on Storm Ranch

August 5, 2005

Dear Friends of Hill Country Conservancy:

HCC is pleased to announce an unprecedented land preservation agreement was finalized this week with the “closing” of Phase I (2280 acres) of the Storm Ranch. Located in northern Hays County this beautiful 5670-acre working cattle ranch with ancient rock fences separating pastures of native grasses, magnificent live oaks and numerous creeks and streams will now be preserved forever.

This project, which has taken nearly four years to complete, is the first land preservation agreement in history to involve U.S. Fish & Wildlife habitat acquisition funding in a federal, state, city and private partnership for the preservation of wildlife habitat and protection of water quality. Austin Mayor Will Wynn said today, “I am grateful to the Storm Family and the Hill Country Conservancy. This is great news for Austin and Central Texas. We are proud to have been part of this deal and proud of the work that HCC has done for the region.”

It is anticipated that the final phase of this historic agreement will be completed in 2006, which will ensure the preservation of the entire ranch. Hill Country Conservancy extends grateful thanks to the Storm family and all our partners for their perseverance to complete this project. ###

*** There will be a story in the Austin American-Statesman soon.

George Cofer
Executive Director
100 Congress Avenue, Suite 1300
Mailing: Post Office Box 163125
Austin 78716-3125
512.732.0268 (fax)


Speak up for open space

Your voice matters. Please forward to your lists.

There was an excellent turnout at the bond committee meeting last night. The majority of the people there spoke in favor of the SW Metro Park (Reimers Park) and the $60 Million Proposition for open space. The committee will make its final recommendation to the Commissioners next Tuesday.

It is not to late to voice your support for these natural area projects. Click on the following link to let the committee know you support parks and open space.

(see link below)

Thank you all who participated last night.

Please call me if you have questions or need more information.

Christy Muse Hill Country Alliance cmuse@austin.rr.com 560-3135