Fitzhugh Neighbors Still Furious About Proposed 5,000-Seat Concert Venue

Hundreds crowded an event center in Dripping Springs Monday evening to protest the proposed development. (Photo by Lina Fisher)

The battle over a proposed 5,000-seat amphitheatre on Fitzhugh Road just west of Austin is raging hotter than ever after hundreds showed up to a Monday night meeting to protest the development.

Blizexas LLC, a California-based developer, is attempting to secure a permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for treated wastewater disposal of maximum 12,000 gallons per day via a subsurface drip irrigation system. After voicing concerns about traffic safety with thousands more cars congesting the small rural Fitzhugh Road at a previous meeting in October, neighbors and environmental groups are now fighting hard against the pending TCEQ permit, citing concerns about stormwater runoff polluting nearby Barton Creek and the Middle Trinity Aquifer.

One of the most powerful interested parties is Shield Ranch, a neighboring plot of 6,400 acres of protected ecosystem host to a nonprofit summer camp for Title One children who otherwise might not have access to an outdoor camp. Marshall Bowen, a lawyer for the ranch and a fourth generation descendant of the family that owns it, told the Chronicle the development is “the opposite of what we are trying to foster at the ranch. I mean, the idea that there would be lights and loud music blaring from this property that’s right on our fence line poses a serious risk to the work we’ve been doing since my great grandfather purchased the property in 1938.”

In its formal comments to TCEQ, the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance writes that “a heavily paved development with high impervious cover [66.45%] such as what is proposed would be more typical in an urban setting than in a rural area with an important contributing stream (Barton Creek) nearby,” as stormwater runoff could pollute the creek. GEAA has also raised concerns about the lack of E. coli testing or limits to protect public safety, as well as the lack of nitrogen or phosphorus removal requirements. “Aside from concerns over pollutant limits, the layout of the proposed Fitzhugh Music Venue itself is also problematic, from a wastewater standpoint,” GEAA writes. Due to the small irrigation area committed to by the developer (the minimum to meet TCEQ requirements), and the predominantly clay (read: unabsorbent) soil, “the individual wastewater concerns and stormwater concerns combine to create a synergistic, polluting mess.”

“More research and testing must be conducted on the proposed method to determine the environmental impacts on the volume of waste that would result from a 5,000 seat music venue hosting frequent events in a natural area,” said a representative for the Nature Conservancy at the Monday meeting. “Monitoring … the whole suite of impacts to the ecosystem, including the land, the water, the aquifer and the habitat for protected species in the area should be important considerations.”

GEAA points out that the Middle Trinity Aquifer is “the sole source of water for many landowners in this area … [and] could also affect water wells some distance away from the proposed development … throughout western Hays County but also into Travis, Blanco, and Comal Counties.” Judging from the size of the crowd and tenor of the comments on Monday, it’s not just the immediate neighbors who are worried.

“I think it’s important to keep in mind that we’re not against any development of this tract of land – we’re just for development that makes sense with the community out there,” said Bowen.

Editor’s note Friday, Feb. 2 1:03pm: A previous version of the story stated that Shield Ranch is 37,000 acres; two of those ranches are in West Texas, and the proposed venue only impacts the Austin-based ranch, which is 6,400 acres. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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