Re: Traffic and Safety Concerns Regarding Proposed 5,000-Person Music Venue on Fitzhugh Road
Dear Hays County Commissioners Court:
As members of a coalition of Hays County residents, longtime local taxpayers, business owners, nonprofits, and neighbors of the location of the proposed Fitzhugh Music Venue, we have substantial concerns about the traffic and safety impacts posed by the possible construction of a 5,000-person music venue along Fitzhugh Road in northern Hays County. Fitzhugh Road is an unlit, narrow, winding, two-lane road with several creek and drainage crossings, no shoulders, and limited visibility around many bends and turns. We believe the out-of-state developer behind this project simply does not understand (or has chosen to ignore) the burdens and risks posed by situating this type of facility on Fitzhugh Road.
To protect the character and safety of our community, we respectfully urge the Hays County Commissioners Court and all Hays County departments to exercise the full extent of their authority in reviewing and acting upon development submittals by the developer, EW Real Estate, LLC a/k/a Lexor Investments or Blizexas. As discussed below, there are at least five actions the County is empowered to take—and that we urge the County to immediately pursue—to protect our community with respect to this project.
We have learned that this developer quietly submitted a Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) to the County in February 2022, seeking to obtain County approval of the developer’s estimate of the traffic to be generated by the proposed project and to allow the developer to pay for only minimal traffic mitigation improvements. We were disappointed that it appears the County “approved” this TIA without a public hearing and without any notice to the public of this submittal by the developer. Since the TIA was not submitted in conjunction with any other development filing with Hays County (e.g., subdivision plat, septic permit, floodplain permit, fire marshal review, etc.), we believe the purported TIA approval is invalid. See Hays County Dev. Regulations § 6.03.
Furthermore, we wish to call the Commissioner Court’s attention to what we believe are significant failings in the TIA the developer submitted. We believe the TIA either fails to address, or inadequately addresses, several significant issues, including the following:
- The TIA failed to study the vast majority of the project’s traffic. According to the developer’s TIA (Fig. 9) over 75% of the estimated inbound traffic generated by the project will arrive from the east of the project and return in the same direction, i.e., in the direction of Austin. However, the TIA failed to analyze the impact of this additional traffic on the intersection of US Highway 290 West and Fitzhugh Road. In fact, although it estimated that over 75% of its traffic will come from and leave toward the east, the TIA failed to analyze the impact of project traffic on any intersection to the east of the project (including Fitzhugh Road intersections at Paul Valley Road and Trail Driver Street). The County should address this glaring inadequacy in the TIA as soon as possible because the further the developer proceeds without any legitimate analysis of this problem—much less a solution for it—the harder it will be to remedy in the future.
As residents and neighboring landowners who regularly drive these roads, we live daily with traffic backing up at the intersection of Highway 290 West and Fitzhugh Road. We shudder to think of the long line of cars backing up on Fitzhugh Road when the venue releases 5,000 concertgoers at the same time in the evening—over 75% of which will be heading toward Highway 290 according to the developer’s own estimates. How will we turn into or leave from our driveways? How will we get to the grocery store? How will emergency vehicles reach our homes? And what if there was a reason the residents had to evacuate, such as a fire?
- The TIA’s traffic mitigation improvements are inadequate. The only physical traffic mitigation improvements required under the TIA are additional turn lanes at Fitzhugh Road and RM 12, improvement of the timing of the stoplight at that intersection, and warning signage. There is no requirement to add a queuing lane and widen the right-of-way on Fitzhugh Road at the Highway 290 intersection. There is no requirement to straighten any of the dangerous curves on Fitzhugh Road, or to reduce the grade of the hills and valleys along the road. The TIA avoids these issues by not studying the intersection at Highway 290 West and Fitzhugh Road and by simply stating that the developer intends to provide uniformed police officers/traffic control staff at the Crumley Ranch Road and Trautwein Road intersections along Fitzhugh Road. While we applaud the use of uniformed police officers on event nights, this development should not solely rely on operational activities to offset negative impacts to the State and County road systems. We strongly believe that these mitigation requirements are insufficient to safely handle all the additional traffic this venue will place on Fitzhugh Road. And we are especially concerned that the TIA does not require any traffic mitigation improvements at Fitzhugh Road and Highway 290 West. Again, we urge the County to address this inadequacy as soon as possible.
- The project does not comply with Hays County’s own regulations for minimum sight distance. It is important that drivers turning into or out of the project have enough visibility of oncoming traffic to make a safe turn. That is the reason Hays County requires “Minimum Sight Distance” standards for new development. However, according to the TIA, the westernmost driveway of this project would provide exiting drivers only 250 feet of sight distance, whereas Hays County requires 350 feet of minimum sight distance (Table 11). We believe this driveway’s non-compliance is more severe than indicated by the TIA, which incorrectly classifies Fitzhugh Road as a “Minor Collector” road, instead of a “Minor Arterial” as stated in the 2021 Hays County Transportation Plan Update. The minimum sight distance for a Minor Arterial intersection is 550 feet. If this correct classification for Fitzhugh Road had been used in the TIA, it would have resulted in the driveway intersection failing to comply with Hays County’s own minimum sight distance standards by 300 feet, a serious and unsafe deficiency.
- Any deviation from Hays County’s minimum sight distance standards requires the granting of a variance at a public hearing before the Commissioners Court. If the developer cannot comply with Hays County’s minimum sight distance standards as described above, then the developer must obtain a variance from the Hays County Commissioners Court. Chapter 721 “Roadway Standards” of the Hays County Development Regulations clearly establish sight distance requirements—not guidelines—based on roadway classification. Variances to Chapter 721 are not listed as permitted administrative variances under Section 8.01 of the Hays County Development Regulations. To avoid complying with these Hays County development regulations, the developer should be required to apply for and obtain a variance in a public hearing before the Hays County Commissioners Court. We strenuously oppose granting the developer such a variance based on the safety concerns of not having sufficient distance and visibility to turn into the venue. But at a minimum, the County should allow for a public hearing to discuss whether such a variance is appropriate here.
- The TIA fails to adequately account for significant public safety concerns. The TIA does not address other critical issues, such as how the developer will ensure that internal site traffic does not back up onto Fitzhugh Road or how the increased traffic on an already dangerous road poses additional public safety concerns. The developer’s site plan included in Figure 2 of the TIA is shockingly inadequate. For example, there are no drive aisles shown for the two western driveways into the site. Instead, both driveways are shown to simply “dead end” directly into a row of parking spaces. With this inadequate site plan and lack of discussion of vehicular queuing, we cannot determine whether entering drivers will be able to find parking spaces without backing up traffic behind them onto Fitzhugh Road. Furthermore, the TIA does not consider the existing safety concerns along Fitzhugh Road which we believe must be studied by the County before any TIA can be considered or approved for this project. As an unlit, winding, narrow, two-lane road without shoulders, with several creek and drainage crossings subject to flooding, and limited visibility around many bends and turns, Fitzhugh Road is uniquely unsuited to handle the high-intensity evening and nighttime traffic this proposed music venue will bring to the area. Finally, there is nothing in the TIA addressing emergency vehicle access to the proposed venue during events. We do not understand how firetrucks, ambulances, and sheriff patrol cars would be able to make it up and down Fitzhugh Road while thousands of attendees are driving on Fitzhugh Road to and from the venue. We strongly believe that no TIA should be approved for the project that does not satisfactorily addressing these significant shortcomings—specifically as they relate to public safety—and not before a full application for development has been made to all departments responsible for implementation of adopted regulations.
Considering the above findings, this coalition has significant concerns about the overall inadequacy of the TIA submitted by the developer. We respectfully make the following requests of the Hays County Commissioners Court:
- Obtain a Road Safety Audit of Fitzhugh Road. We believe the County should carefully evaluate existing safety conditions by obtaining a Road Safety Audit of Fitzhugh Road. The Road Safety Audit will identify existing safety issues along Fitzhugh Road and include recommended mitigation measures to address those safety issues. This audit will help the County and public to understand the safety risks already present along Fitzhugh Road and how they can be mitigated. This audit should be obtained and considered by the Commissioners Court in a public hearing prior to consideration of any new or supplemental TIA from the developer.
- Notify the developer that a new TIA will need to be submitted in connection with any development filings. Considering the above findings, we believe the TIA submitted by the developer is woefully insufficient to properly capture the traffic and safety impacts posed by this project. Furthermore, we believe the purported “approval” of this TIA is not meaningful since it was not submitted in conjunction with any development filing. The developer should be made aware of these deficiencies and be required to prepare and submit a new TIA.
- Any TIA for this project must include a study of the impact on Fitzhugh Road at Highway 290. This developer cannot be allowed to avoid analyzing the impact of over 75% of its traffic. At a minimum, a thorough analysis of the Fitzhugh Road and Highway 290 intersection and necessary traffic mitigation impacts must be included in any new or supplemental TIA. Even though that intersection is not located within Hays County, we are all stakeholders in the capacity and safety of that intersection.
- Hire a third-party specialized traffic engineer to review and assess the TIA for this project. Hays County departments are staffed efficiently and juggle multiple projects at once, and we understand the County may not have the in-house capacity to thoroughly and meticulously assess the TIA. Conducting an independent, third-party review also strengthens public confidence in the adequacy of a developer-submitted study and proposed mitigation efforts. We respectfully request that Hays County engage a qualified third-party traffic engineering specialist to evaluate the TIA and any traffic-related submittals by the developer.
- We request a public hearing be conducted before any new or supplemental TIA is approved for this project. Hays County residents have a clear and direct interest in major developments and the resulting impacts on our community and safety. This music venue poses many concerns to the members of this coalition. We feel strongly that a development of this scale should not be approved behind closed doors. We believe a community conversation is justified. We request at least one public hearing before the Hays County Commissioners Court so that residents can discuss the merits of granting permits or development approvals for the proposed music venue.
We appreciate your service to our community and your attention to this critical matter. We look forward to continued conversation with you, our elected representatives, about this proposal, and we are available at your convenience for a meeting.
Richard Sorenson, Secretary
Fitzhugh Neighbors, a Texas nonprofit corporation
Robert A. Ayres, Co-Owner
Shield Ranch, a nationally designated historic district and protected wildland
Fitzhugh Neighbors and the Shield Ranch are members of The Stop Fitzhugh Concert Venue Coalition, a coalition of over 2,400 homeowners, businesses, property owners, concerned citizens, and nonprofits committed to protecting the character and safety of Fitzhugh Road.
Hon. Chip Roy, U.S. Representative, District 21
Hon. Donna Campbell, Texas State Senator, District 25
Hon. Carrie Isaac, Texas State Representative, District 73
Hon. Andy Brown, Travis County Judge
Hon. Ann Howard, Travis County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Hon. Gary Cutler, Hays County Sheriff
Hon. Ron Hood, Hays County Constable Precinct 4
Chief Deputy Mike Davenport, Hays County Sheriff’s Office
Mark Kennedy, General Counsel, Hays County
Mark Wobus, Hays County Fire Marshal
Jerry Borcherding, P.E., Hays County Transportation Director
Winton Porterfield, Hays County Transportation Department
Marcus Pacheco, Hays County Development Services Director
Scott Collard, Fire Chief, North Hays County Fire Rescue
Tucker Ferguson, P.E., District Engineer, TxDOT Austin District