Controversial Dripping Springs wedding venue moves forward

A 5-1 recommendation to approve a controversial Driftwood wedding venue was handed down by the Dripping Springs Planning and Zoning Commission Jan. 23, but not without protest.

More than 100 people packed into Dripping Springs City Hall for a public hearing on the site development permit, with many voicing opposition to the Mark Black Wedding venue, located on a 64 acre plot of land that can hold a capacity of 600 people in a residential area.

Commissioner Erich Oswald cast the lone dissenting vote on the proposed project. The Dripping Springs City Council will determine the fate of the permit on Feb. 13.

(photo by Exsar Arguello)

Mark and Michael Black, who applied for the permit, attended the meeting, along with representatives from the project’s architecture and development groups.

Black said Tuesday because the permit was approved as-is, his team didn’t anticipate making any architectural changes to the venue.

On Jan. 23, the News-Dispatch reported Black as having a few clients already lined up for the venue, and none of them having a guest list that would be beyond 200 people. The 600-person guest list is a maximum number of potential people, and most weddings do not reach that capacity, Black said.

Black said he and State Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) are planning to talk with county officials for ways of alleviating some of the community’s concern, the News-Dispatch reported.

The site of the Mark Black Wedding Venue is located in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), which made the process more difficult.

One of the main concerns from the surrounding communities was the lack of infrastructure in and out of the venue area. The venue will be located on West Concord Circle, which connects to Crystal Hill Drive,  and has one main road in and out.

Since Crystal Hills Drive is in the ETJ, P&Z has no power over the potential renovations or expansion of the road. Any decisions on roads would have to come from county officials.

Despite community concern about the road and potential hazards, North Hays County Fire and Rescue Fire Chief Scott Collard reviewed and approved the plans and standards for the site.

Carlos Torres-Verdin, president of the Friendship Alliance, a nonprofit homeowners association representing the affected neighborhoods around the venue’s site, outlined potential risks involved with the development in a presentation to P&Z.

One issue extended to the number of vehicles on Crystal Hill Drive.

In the case of an emergency evacuation, it could take more than an hour for venue attendees to evacuate the property, according to presentation slides.

Cristian Granucci, a current Los Angeles, California, Fire Captain who resides in Driftwood, cited the potential fire hazards on Crystal Hill, which he said is surrounded by a dense fuel bed of cedar and other flammable vegetation.

“I know we’re in the ETJ, but someone has to throw us a bone here,” Granucci said. “Fireworks, sky lanterns and cigarettes are all pose inherent risks to the safety of our community.”

The News-Dispatch reported Black added two, 40,000-gallon water tanks that will be available for emergency services for not only the venue, but also the surrounding area.

Oswald noted the amount of deliberation and controversy from the community was substantial enough to cast a dissenting vote.

Commissioner Michael Lavengco said the committee needs to make the community aware that there are certain restrictions P&Z has in respect to the ETJ.

“I am disappointed with the committee’s decision tonight,” Torres-Verdin said. “When you have as much scientific data and analysis as we did, it’s extremely difficult to come to terms with the decision. This isn’t over. We still have council and we will continue to push on.”

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