By Ann Fowler
A campus for the 1200-member PromiseLand West Church, called Dream City, appears to be moving forward at its 53-acre site at 8701 State Highway 71 West. For Pastors Randy and Denise Phillips and Executive Pastor Michael Heflin, the campus will be a place where families can enjoy recreation and harmony.
Nearby residents are fearful that the harmony will come amplified via the 1,000-fixed-seat outdoor amphitheater. Locals don’t want the amphitheater, period, yet to Phillips, founder of the contemporary Christian music trio Phillips, Craig and Dean, the amphitheater is very much a part of his dream.
At the October meeting of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN), Hill Country Estates resident Robert Kleeman expressed displeasure that the church had been granted a restrictive covenant by the city of Austin. He felt that Greg Guernsey, a director of the city’s Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, had exceeded his authority by granting it.
Guernsey told the Gazette: “Under Chapter 25-2-2 of the City Code, the Director shall make the appropriate determination of a use under the City’s Zoning regulations. In 2008, I received a request for a use determination for a church amphitheater from Mr. Carl Conley, P.E. on behalf of the PromiseLand. … It is my understanding the recently signed covenant matches the use determination from 2008.”
In a response to Conley, Guernsey wrote, “I have reviewed your letter and attachment. Since the worship building and the outdoor amphitheater are both being primarily used for religious assembly uses, I don’t see a problem with these two facilities co-locating on the property. I understand that the educational and musical presentations will be limited in scope and will be subordinate to the primary religious assembly use. I also understand the church will be compliant with all applicable City Codes and ordinances, including the noise ordinance.
“If the primary use of one or both of the facilities does change from a religious assembly use to an outdoor entertainment or an indoor entertainment use, a zoning change may be required,” added Guernsey.
In that December 17, 2008 letter, Conley wrote, “The church has met with the adjoining neighborhood representatives and have offered to restrict uses of the amphitheater, including dates, times and incorporate sound attenuation design techniques, in order to assure the compatibility with the adjoining residential uses. PromiseLand Church will continue to work with the neighbors even after any permits are issued to work toward being a good neighbor in the surrounding community.”
Although the residents are concerned that rock concerts could be held in the outdoor amphitheater, Conley’s letter suggested the intended uses for it include church activities (such as weddings, funerals and educational and musical presentations), as well as non-church related uses (neighborhood meetings, scout meetings, graduations, charitable fundraisers).
The restrictive covenant filed and recorded on October 5, states that the outdoor amphitheater is subject to all applicable City ordinance. Kleeman said, “There’s no way the city can enforce this.” He said any noise complaint would be investigated a week after the fact. “We really feel the [city] staff let us down,” he told the OHAN audience.