Neighbors are tired of loud rock music at Gold Creek Community Church services but feel powerless to get anyone to do anything about it. One church member is the Snohomish County sheriff.
When Guy Carcione’s sofa frame begins to shake and he hears rumbling that isn’t thunder, he knows services have begun.
And he’s not happy.
On Sundays — three times in the morning and once in the evening — Wednesday band practices and occasional Friday-night concerts, such as the Gungor rock concert planned for this Friday, Gold Creek Community Church’s services are marked by hard-rocking music: Screaming guitars, booming basses and pounding drums.
The Mill Creek-area church has no conventional religious trappings — crosses and altars — and music is the main part of the worship experience. It attracts young people traditional churches don’t, say the pastors.
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“Music is a powerful medium,” Pastor Larry Ehoff, the worship director, told the congregation on Sunday.
The church is a brown multibuilding complex in the middle of a large parking lot ringed by trim suburban homes, many bearing red signs admonishing the church members for “not respecting their neighbors.”
The neighbors have complained repeatedly about the loud music to Snohomish County authorities, including the sheriff and the county prosecutor, but the residents say their concerns have been disregarded.
For his part, Pastor Dan Kellogg, a youthful man who preaches in jeans and a rhinestone-trimmed black shirt, says the church takes the complaints seriously. And Ehoff, who plays in the band, says the church has spent $50,000 putting up drywall to mitigate the sound.
Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick, a member of the church, says deputies respond to every call regarding the church and that three complaints have been sent to the Prosecutor’s Office. So far no charges have been filed.
Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Cheryl Johnson said one complaint had insufficient evidence. Another was referred back to the deputies for more information and a third is still being processed.
Carcione and his neighbors, who live at least an eighth of a mile from the church, contend that the sheriff’s membership in the church and the church’s policy of hiring off-duty deputies for traffic control have created a climate of tolerance that has allowed their complaints to be brushed off.
It’s a contention that Lovick disputes.
“I shouldn’t be penalized for where I go to church,” he said.
The conflict has become a battle of decibel readings.
The county law says noise should not exceed 55 decibels.
The church says it sets its sound system for 90 decibels with a peak of 95 decibels. Ehoff says some other churches he surveyed set their levels even higher, from 85 to 105 decibels.
Meanwhile, neighbors have taken their own readings and say they got one of 75 decibels, on 148th Street Southeast, which runs at the back of their homes and in front of the church.
No one apparently has gotten a reading within the law.
All the church has to do is turn down the bass, said neighbor Lou DeFranza. The bass is so loud and pulsing it rattles and vibrates their homes.
The neighbors aren’t complaining about such things as increased traffic from the church. It’s mostly the bass, not even the actual music, he said.
“On Wednesday nights (when there are rehearsals) it starts about 6,” said Josh Schoener, one of the neighbors. “I turn on all the fans to create a white noise to try to block out the sound.”
Church officials have told him, he said, that their decibel reader, when held outside the church, found noise from passing traffic was louder than the music inside the church.
Late last summer, the church built a new “performance space” capable of seating 1,700, with 25-foot-high ceilings, black walls, concrete floor, a stage and theater screen. The setting was designed to be “hip,” with high-tech lighting and a venue not only for Sunday worship, but also for the church’s other programs, which over the years have ranged from offering tattoos during services to hosting a circus.
The new building amplifies music like a sound box, say the neighbors. And when the building opened in early fall, the noise complaints went from occasional to frequent, they say.
Inside, the worship space looks more like a rock-concert venue — with huge screen, stage, high-tech lighting and amplifiers — than a conventional church.
It’s the young and hip style of worship that attracts people such as Eric Hudson Jr.
“I grew up in this church and I love it,” said Hudson, 20, as he made a single-tall latte at the church’s espresso cafe. “It’s the atmosphere here, and the people are friendly.”
On Sunday, Ehoff, dressed in black jeans, T-shirt and a hoodie, sang “Rope,” a rock hit by the Foo Fighters, and Kellogg based his sermon on hanging onto God as the ultimate rope. As he spoke, images of rock climbers played on the screen behind him.
In an email to Lyle Ronglien, one of the complaining neighbors and also a musician, Ehoff wrote what he considered amicable correspondence between guys who loved rock: “Five years ago we developed our own sound policy based on what felt like ‘us’ and what we were trying to accomplish, and who we were trying to reach. At that point I bought a high dollar DB reader that is attached to a computer and began to analyze every service. The system is set at 90 (decibels or DB) and allows for peaks of 95.”
What residents across the street say that means is the music — and the bass in particular — is consistently louder than the 55 decibels allowed by the Snohomish County ordinance for residential areas.
“Gold Creek is a Christian Church and we believe our First Amendment right is freedom of religion,” Ehoff wrote to Ronglien. “You have said ‘just turn it down,’ but I want to worship in the way I want to worship and I don’t want someone else to tell me how I can do it.”
One engineer told the church it could cost $100,000 to fully soundproof the building, which has concrete floors and high ceilings and was built on a budget in 2000 and added to over the years.
Lovick believes the county’s sound ordinance is difficult to interpret. On one hand, anything that disturbs someone can be considered a nuisance; and on the other, it sets the residential noise level at 55.
“The noise ordinance is flawed,” Ehoff said. “It is vaguely written and impossible to follow. On one side of the ordinance is a list of lawful measurable limits, which experts (sound engineers) have confirmed that Gold Creek does not exceed. Then it flips over to be completely subjective and says you just can’t be a nuisance. Well, a crying baby can be a nuisance.”
Things can get a bit nasty. …
In an email to Ronglien, Ehoff asked: “Would you really suggest that 2,000-plus people worship differently so you can sleep in?”
Says Carcione: “I don’t care if they’re Satan worshippers. I just want them to turn it down.”
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or firstname.lastname@example.org