The smoke debate gets legal

The great Austin smoke debate continues to rage and a group of South Austin residents is taking their fight to court.

"There's one, two businesses, and then you have Terry Black's Barbecue," Guy Watts says looking out of his Barton Springs Office window. He has a clear view of the five stacks that are nestled in eye-line of the tree tops.

"We would all prefer that he would have a healthy business for the next thirty or forty years, but we do not enjoy the smoke stacks." An attorney, Watts also lives behind the restaurant on Daniel Drive.

Some of the residents in his neighborhood, Watts says, have been there for several decades. And they've seen many restaurants come and go in the space Black's now inhabits. "Not once in the preceding three or four decades has any restauranteur received a complaint from Daniel Drive because of their wood smoke emission," he says.

After a year of back and forth, on Tuesday, Watts filed a private nuisance lawsuit on behalf of 15 plaintiffs, who live in eight homes along his street. "We allege that Mr. Black's wood smoke is interfering with out private enjoyment and use of our homes," he tells FOX 7 in an interview.

Earlier this year, the City Council considered an ordinance that would have regulated smoke across Austin. Dozens of people testified, including Watts. "The neighbor we live next to smokes seven days a week, 22 hours a day, on five smoke stacks," he said addressing the council.

Watts also showed a time lapse video taken from his neighbors yard, illustrating the effects of the wafting smoke. "I didn't think the city should have an ordinance. The effort though produced a healthy conversation in the city." He believes smoke problems should be handled on a case by case basis.

FOX 7 spoke to Mark Black after the Council decided not to move forward with the ordinance. "We want to work with them as much as possible," he said of his neighbors on Daniel Drive. "We want to be good to them, I am sure they want to be good to us."

At the time, Black said they were spending $15,000 to clean up their smoke. "We are installing some air cleaners and filters and stuff like that and it's going to help out."

Watts says it wasn't enough, "I think it's better than nothing but I don't think it's a reduction of the smoke particles." And he says the plaintiffs had no choice but to go to court, "We think it's a much better solution to move the smoke off-site or scrub the smoke. But because Mr. Black has chosen neither one, our only remedy left is a private nuisance lawsuit where we seek money damages."

But, Watts adds, money isn't the ultimate goal, "Nobody cares if we get one red cent out of this lawsuit, we just want our homes back."

Terry Black's Barbecue will have 30 days to respond to the lawsuit after it's served.

Mark Black, one of the restaurants co-owners, tells FOX 7, they will fight the lawsuit, and that they think the filters have fixed the problem.

"One it's disappointing for the residents around here," Black says. "We've got a lot of support in the community and for small businesses. It creates a climate of fear that they're going to face lawsuits over the smallest things."