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Commissioners weigh first mass-gathering case after revisions

Wednesday, August 26, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

The Travis County Commissioners Court postponed action on Tuesday on what County Judge Sarah Eckhardt dubbed the “maiden voyage” of a new mass-gathering permit policy.

Before the commissioners was an application to approve a permit for the 2016 edition of Euphoria Music & Camping Festival to be held at Carson Creek Ranch.

The public hearing on the permit was the first of its kind since the commissioners approved permitting-process revisions that featured what Eckhardt called “baseline expectations” for concert organizers, including, most contentiously, a curfew for amplified music. The organizers of Euphoria are asking for permission to extend the curfew by an hour.

Eckhardt initiated the revision process this spring after one neighbor showed up to several public hearings to oppose permits for events at Carson Creek Ranch. Brent Johnson, who lives on a farm next door to the venue, had repeatedly said the late-night music was an unreasonable burden on his family.

Johnson showed up at Tuesday’s meeting to once again ask the commissioners to deny the permit application. “I’ve got four kids, and we live in a mobile home right next to the concert venue,” Johnson reminded the commissioners. “Three of them are in elementary school, and it’s very, very noisy at our house, even at 70 (decibels).”

The new mass-gathering rules allow a maximum noise level of 70 decibels. However, to give concert organizers more leeway, the new policy requires the measurement to be taken from the nearest adjacent residential building, not the property line.

Johnson suggested that he might work around that rule by moving a trailer house to his property line and letting an employee sleep in it, an idea that didn’t find much favor with Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who questioned whether Johnson was working in good faith to find a compromise with the concert organizers.

“I mean, if we’re not going to be able to work with you, then … it’s going to affect how I want to participate in this,” Daugherty warned.

Scott Davidson, who manages permitting and public safety for Euphoria festivals, told the commissioners that he had reached out to Johnson but the meeting was “not very productive.”

“We continued to tender extend the invitation to make accommodations for his family and will continue to do everything we can to mitigate the sound,” Davidson said. “But Commissioner Daugherty, as you are kind of getting at, I feel like we might be at an impasse with this one. But we’re here, committed to doing what we can.”

Noting that Davidson had submitted the application with plenty of time to spare until the scheduled event in April, Eckhardt announced that she would like to take more time to consider the issue.

“This is our maiden voyage under this new policy, so I want to be careful with it and mindful as we go forward,” she said before ultimately resetting the decision for the commissioners’ regular voting session on Sept. 8.

This story has been corrected.

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