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  • Dr. Carlos Torres-Verdin and his dog Cosmo survey Crystal Creek on property owned by him and his wife Laurel Trevino.. CENTURY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN PACHECO
  • From the property of Carlos Torres-Verdin and Laurel Trevino, the heavy machines from the Mark Black Wedding Venue are clearly visible. CENTURY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN PACHECO

Parts of Mark Black Wedding Venue put on hold

“At this time a Stop Work Order has been issued for all construction activity that does not match the approved site development plan,” city inspector Aaron Reed

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.

In addition to the site plan concerns, water containing sediment from the construction site, was also reported draining into bordering Crystal Creek. This came about after the recent flood rains in Hays County.

Dr. Carlos Torres-Verdin, who with his wife, Laurel Trevino, owns property adjoining the Mark Black development, called the city inspector on both May 7thand 14th, stating he had seen water coming down from the Mark Black site onto and into Crystal Creek “with excavation debris and fine sediment, thereby compromising the water quality and fragile riparian environment.” He also stated that the excavation debris and sediment went into the Liberty Ranch water conservation easement that also connects with Mark Black’s property.

In a statement to the Century News, Torres-Verdin said that the creek bordering his family had always been pristine until the construction site run off, and that he feared the debris could make itself into people’s drinking water as Crystal Creek eventually connects with the Edwards Aquifer. The debris gave the water a “milky appearance,” and coated the creek bed. The creek water was sent off for scientific analysis. The analysis revealed “sediment consisting of limestone, dolomite, and clay minerals in heavy concentrations, which in water solution and suspension act as a colloid,” according to Torres-Verdin.

Torres-Verdin opposed the venue since inception, and is also President of the Friendship Alliance, which has been a vocal critic of the Mark Black wedding venue and opposed the venue’s approval by the City of Dripping Springs City Council on March 13, 2018 “because of safety and water-quality concerns.” The Friendship Alliance states its mission is to ensure water quality, continued safe and unfettered use of aquifers, insure children’s access to public education, preserve open spaces, and rural character of the area.

During visits to the wedding venue site on May 7th and 14th city inspector Aaron Reed “saw sediment had overburdened the temporary erosion controls and left the project site,” which he communicated to TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality). 

After his May 14thvisit, Reed confirmed with James Slone, a Geoscientist with TCEQ, that TCEQ “had put a stop to any dewatering activity [on the site] until a dewatering plan had been approved by TCEQ.” 

A request for information of action taken by TCEQ on the “dewatering activity” was not received by time of press by the Century News, but is expected in time for the July 4thedition. However Reed said on dewatering activity, “after the May 7thvisit, the City required the contractor fix all erosion controls, add more controls to the area that had been overburdened, and remove any sediment build up at controls that exceeded 50% of capacity of those controls. I was made aware that dewatering had caused the sediment to leave the site after the May 14thvisit. At that time, TCEQ had already issued a stop to all dewatering. I requested the contractor include the City in all communications with TCEQ regarding the violation.”

Reed also said, “At this time a Stop Work Order has been issued for all construction activity that does not match the approved site development plan,” and that “The City has received other complaints” on the Mark Black wedding venue construction site. Reed visited the work site on May 7, 14, and Jun. 3.Heavy tension between the Mark Black development and its neighbors, which was present when the wedding venue was approved by City Council, has not lessened. Mary Buchanan, a 30 year Radiance resident, expressed concerns about changes to the construction plans in a letter to the editor. “Clearly, big changes are afoot,” Buchanan said. “We’re their nearest neighbors. I think we’re entitled to know what those changes are. That’s why we’ll be insisting that the City of Dripping Springs be fully transparent in their review of the new plan.” (Her letter to the editor is printed in a nearby box.)Torres-Verdin is more direct in his expectations for the city’s handling of any site changes, “it is imperative that City Council do not approve any modifications to the Site Development Plan of the MBWV without requiring a new permit application and without requesting public feedback through Planning & Zoning and City Council meetings,” Torres-Verdin said. “A so-called administrative approval by the City of Dripping Springs is not the proper way to deliver consideration to the surrounding neighborhoods affected by the Mark Black wedding venue. The City of Dripping Springs and Hays County should uphold the law in the interest of all people in the ETJ [Extraterritorial jurisdiction] affected by their decisions.”

When asked for comment, Hays County Pct. 4 Commissioner Walt Smith said, “At this point we at the county have not received any additional information on the construction of the venue. However we understand that the city is reviewing a new set of site development plans. It’s premature to comment until we know more information.”

A request for comment toTerry Black had not responded to by time of press.

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Updated June 30, 2019

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Letter to the Editor

30 year resident says changes to Mark Black wedding venue cause concern

 

There has been widespread community resistance to the project from its inception, with overflow crowds at three public hearings before the Dripping Springs City Council in early 2018. Neighbors didn’t prevail, however, and the City Council approved the Blacks’ site development plan in April of last year. 

But now the Blacks are back for more. They’ve filed a new site development plan with the City. They don’t have to actually tell the City what they’ll be building on that site. But a few details on the plan are really alarming. Like the fact that on the old site plan, 28,000 square feet of impervious ground cover would be devoted to ‘buildings.’ On the new plan, it’s 60,000 square feet. Before, only 858 square feet of impervious cover went to something called ‘miscellaneous.’ Now, it’s 18,000.” 

It’s not a stretch to conclude, from facts like these, that they are NOT building the same thing as they told the city, and Hays County, and other regulatory agencies two years ago, when they were trying to get permission for a simple wedding venue operating three days a week. 

Clearly, big changes are afoot. We’re their nearest neighbors. I think we’re entitled to know what those changes are. That’s why we’ll be insisting that the City of Dripping Springs be fully transparent in their review of the new plan. 

The City of Dripping Springs’ Site Development Ordinance states that the City Administrator may approve, “without formal application or public hearing ... minor deviations or design modifications ... determined by the city engineer to have no significant impact on neighboring properties [or] the public....” 

That’s not good enough. A building that big isn’t being built to host a few weddings a week. Based on what we’ve heard, and the construction so far, it could easily house a multi-story hotel and conference center. Will there be a restaurant or an outside music venue like Nutty Brown--maybe somewhere in that 17,000 square feet of miscellaneous space? We know they’re building a vineyard. Will there be a winery, too? 

It’s not right that any of this should come to pass with just a rubber stamp from the city administrator. An operation with people coming and going seven days a week, all hours of the day, will clearly significantly impact our lives and safety and property. There’s one road into and out of our neighborhoods. This area was never built for a big commercial enterprise and it won’t support one. We live in the City’s ETJ. We can’t elect the council members, but we are their constituents. We have rights, too, and they need to protect them--beginning with our right to know what is going on. 

Nobody knows. They don’t have to tell the City what they’re actually building, they’ve never once shared their plans with their future neighbors, and Hays County hasn’t heard from them yet. Why is that? 

-Mary Buchanan, 30 year Radiance resident

 

Dripping Springs Century-News

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Dripping Springs, Texas 78620

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