COVER: Revelers pack the San Marcos River during Memorial Day weekend. PHOTO VIA FACEBOOK
by BRAD ROLLINS
SEGUIN — Managers of tubing outfitter Cool River Ranch, a 220-acre riverside playground between San Marcos and Martindale, are rushing to scale down plans for a July 4 music festival after they missed a permit application deadline.
On Tuesday, the Guadalupe County Commissioners Court declined to approve an outdoor music festival permit for the Aquaphonic Summer Blast because the event promoter did not submit an application until May 20, less than the 60-day review period required by state law.
“I just looked at [the application] and saw the date and I know what the code says. It was an invalid application and there was nothing the court could do about it. I said, ‘I don’t even know why we’re meeting’,” said Guadalupe County Judge Larry Jones who in the past has upset residents who live along the river by issuing a handful of mass gathering permits to Cool River Ranch.
Organizers were aiming to attract as many as 5,000 people to the three-day Aquaphonic festival at the San Marcos River off Dupuy Ranch Road but will instead have to limit attendance to 2,500, one of the triggers for requiring a mass gathering permit, Cool River Ranch manager Joe Flanagan said on Wednesday. He acknowledged he applied for the festival permit too late, thinking he had 45 instead of 60 days.
Cool River Ranch “has had every regulatory agency in the country on us” since before its opening last summer, Flanagan said, scrutiny he blamed on “three or four” of the dozen or so households along Cottonseed Run road immediately downstream from the ranch.
“We’ve tried real hard to get along with everyone. … Three or four people, we get along with fine. There’s about three or four more that we’re not going to be able to get along with no matter what we do — unless I die of a heart attack and the ranch closes,” said Flanagan, who owns Nephew’s bar in downtown San Marcos.
Under the Texas Occupational Code, promoters must seek an outdoor music festival permit if the event will be held on more than one day and attendance is expected to exceed 5,000 people. The Texas Health and Safety Code, meanwhile, requires a mass gathering permit if an event is expected to attract more than 2,500 people and will last for more than five daytime hours or for any length of time between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
When the venue lies outside an incorporated city, both types of permits are issued by the county government, but mass gathering permits are approved by the county judge or his designee while music festival permits are approved by the full commissioners court.
Jones said he has issued mass gathering permits in the past to Cool River Ranch against the wishes of some of its neighbors because state law gives him limited latitude to deny applications if the county sheriff, fire marshal and health officer report that event promoters have made adequate plans to meet health and safety standards.
One of Cool River Ranch’s mass gathering permit applications was denied last summer when Jones delegated his decision-making authority on the issue to Pct. 2 Commissioner Kyle Kutscher, whose precinct includes the ranch and the Cottonseed Run residents.
“People don’t want their tranquility disturbed [but] all I can do is follow state law,” Jones said. “Everything the promoter is supposed to do, he has done according to state law. Every permit I’ve approved has been recommended for approval and I can’t deny it. Maybe a county commissioner can do that, but a county judge can’t.”
Kutscher, now the de facto county judge-elect after besting Jones in the Republican Party primary in March, did not respond to a message seeking comment left Wednesday afternoon at his county office.
Under state laws that establish procedures for mass gathering and outdoor music festival permits, anyone involved — either an applicant or an application opponent — can appeal a judge’s or commissioners court’s decision by filing a petition in state district court. The district judge is authorized to suspend the judge’s or commissioners court’s decision if he finds that an event permit was improperly approved or denied.
Detractors have yet to appeal one of Cool River Ranch’s event permits, Jones said. They do not have wait for the next opportunity to do so. Jones has already issued a mass gathering permit for a one-day music festival and river float during Labor Day Weekend. The event, called Float Fest 2014, is expected to attract 10,000 to 15,000 people, Flanagan said.Email | Print