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DS adopts ordinance for special event venues

By Megan Wehring

DRIPPING SPRINGS – Wedding venues and special event facilities now have a specific definition listed in the city’s Code of Ordinances. 

The city of Dripping Springs has been approached by prospective applicants interested in operating wedding venues in the city limits. However, after exploring the land use chart and definitions in the zoning ordinance, city staff found that the use was not listed at the time. 

On April 26, the Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously approved the text amendment – which allows wedding venues and other similar uses in commercial districts after approval of a Conditional Use Permit. The city council was later approached at its May 17 meeting yet concerns were raised about how the new land use would affect existing businesses who currently host special events on a regular basis. 

After review with the city attorney, city staff determined that businesses which operate as a primary use other than a special event facility can host special events on an occasional basis, without being considered a special event facility. 

The ordinance with the updated language was approved by the city council on June 7. 

A special event facility is now defined as, “An establishment and/or premises which is reserved whose primary use is the reservation by individuals or groups via appointment for limited engagement(s) to accommodate gatherings and functions, both private and public, including, but not limited to, banquets, weddings, anniversaries, receptions, conferences, markets, and other similar celebrations. Such a use is authorized but is not required to include: 1) kitchen facilities for the preparation or catering of food; 2) the sale of alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption, only during scheduled events and not open to the general public; and 3) outdoor gardens or reception facilities. A special event facility does not include a business who occasionally hosts special events, but whose primary use is not as a special event facility as defined herein.”

While it was a unanimous decision, council member Geoffrey Tahuahua questioned how the city is going to confirm when a facility “occasionally hosts special events” as the new definition states. 

“I want to try to limit any kind of arbitrary assumptions in that word occasionally,” Tahuahua said. 

Senior planner Tory Carpenter said the city staff does have significant discretion when it comes to making those determinations. 

“Let’s say there is a business that is trying to get around the Conditional Use Permit process and they say they are only hosting [a special event]occasionally so it doesn’t follow the special event process,” Carpenter explained to the council. “Staff can make the determination that we don’t think it’s an occasional basis and call it a special event facility. There is the appeal process to appeal to a city administrator’s decision, which would ultimately come to council.” 

City attorney Laura Mueller clarified that this is primarily for new businesses. 

“If it’s an existing business, that’s not really what this is for,” Mueller said. “This is to allow new businesses that are special event [venues].” 

About Author

Megan Navarro (formerly Wehring) graduated from Texas State University in May 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication. In June 2020, she started a summer internship at the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch through the Dow Jones News Fund and Texas Press Association. She then earned her way to a reporter position later that summer and now, she serves as the editor of the newspaper. Working for a small publication, Navarro wears multiple hats. She has various responsibilities including managing a team of reporters, making editorial decisions, overseeing social media posts, fact checking, writing her own articles and more. Navarro has a heart for storytelling and she believes that journalists are equipped to share the stories that are important to the community.

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