WENATCHEE — Churches will not be exempt from noise restrictions included in an ordinance the City Council voted to extend Thursday.
Interim controls that the council approved Feb. 28, 2019, would have expired on the same day this year, but Thursday’s vote means they’ll be renewed for another six months.
The rules apply to neighborhood centers, auditoriums, places of public assembly and places of public worship in residential zones. They set standards for building height, design, setbacks, signs and off-street parking, and also prohibit outdoor sound amplification.
The council also had the option of extending the ordinance with an exception for places of worship. Councilman Mark Kulaas said he couldn’t support that.
“... I do think it sets aside a special class that’s not available to other persons, and I think equity is very important in this process,” he said.
People packed the council chambers, and the 10 who addressed the council were evenly split between supporters and opponents of the exemption.
Russ Keagle spoke on behalf of the Lower Sunnyslope Neighborhood Association. He lives next to the site where Grace City Church is building a new campus to include a chapel, event center and courtyard.
Keagle referred to a 2017 outdoor Easter celebration the church held on the property.
“My wife and I were awakened at 7:30 a.m. to the window-shaking noise of bass guitar,” he said. “This was happening about 50 feet from our bedroom window. Noise from the Grace City’s amplified rock band continued most of Easter Sunday. When the rock band wasn’t playing, there were various people speaking on amplified microphones. Entire surrounding neighborhoods were subjected to this event. We can only imagine, as an association, what it will be like during their grand opening ceremonies, which will likely happen in the next six months.”
He said the neighborhood association wasn’t interested in prohibiting celebrations of life, live Nativity scenes, Easter egg hunts, vacation Bible school or back-to-school drives. He acknowledged the church’s First Amendment rights but said he also wanted the council to consider the neighbors’ right to privacy.
Grace City currently holds services at the Numerica Performing Arts Center in Wenatchee. According to the church’s website, the cost of the first phase of its building project is estimated at $11.5 million.
Church member Kirk Hudson encouraged the council to let the existing ordinance expire or continue it with an exception for places of worship.
“I believe many of the concerns that the neighbors have on the Grace City Church property are greatly mitigated,” he said. “Up until this point, it’s been a piece of property where events have had to take place without the benefit of having buildings and some sound-control and mitigation measures that are being put into place right now. … The ordinance as it is right now, if it gets extended, it will limit some wonderful events for our community because it does ban amplified sound. Even some of the things that we’d be thinking about, weddings and things like that, would not be allowed as the ordinance stands in place.”
Councilmembers and residents asked if the restrictions would apply to existing activities like high school football and AppleSox baseball games.
“It’ll be hard to ban that at this point,” city attorney Steve Smith said. “We’ve pretty well accepted that behavior or that use for this entire time.”
Wenatchee’s planning commissioners will continue to review noise restrictions, including looking at adding specific decibel levels to the code. Workshops and public hearings are set for February and March.
Councilmembers Linda Herald, Travis Hornby and Keith Huffaker voted against extending the ordinance as is.
Hornby said he’d like the city to go back to its previous rules and get recommendations from the Planning Commission on whether to implement new guidelines.
“My hesitation in a total ban is these organizations and businesses are planning their year out now,” he said. “You put this ban on that lasts another six months, they can’t plan. It stops business, it stops any kind of planning regardless if it’s with a church or something else.”