by Ann Fowler
Dream City, the church campus envisioned by Pastor Randy Phillips (pictured) and the PromiseLand West Church, began construction this week. The project will ultimately include a worship center, a counseling center, a hike and bike trail and an amphitheater.
The idea of an amphitheater has caused concern for some of the project’s neighbors. Kim Butler, secretary of the Hill Country Estates Homeowners Association, told the Gazette, “We’re opposed to an amplified sound and light entertainment venue, in effect a commercial facility, being constructed in an area zoned rural residential as a component of the Dream City Site Plan.”
According to the city and church officials, the amphitheater will not be used as a commercial enterprise but for events that are church or community related.
The amphitheater that has been a key part of the dream for Phillips, who is part of the Christian vocal group Phillips, Craig & Dean. Phillips told the Gazette that the amphitheatre is being built in phase 1 of the project. He hopes it will be finished by next August, and said they had already booked the first performance: Ballet Magnificat!, which will perform in December. He said children from local neighborhoods and dance troops will be invited to dance with the professionals. ” I’m excited about that,” he said.
Phillips added that Paul Carrozza, owner of RunTex, is designing a hike and bike trail to run through the property and link three local neighborhoods. He said, “I hope they see us as a community resource— they will have access to this property like they would a park, like anything that adds value to not only their property, but to their lives. We’re more interested in investing in people’s lives than in buildings. Anything we can do to create a family memory for these families is wonderful. And we’re going to give them lots of opportunities.”
Paul Grosch lives in an adjoining neighborhood, the Oaks at Hill Country. He said a year or two ago he took his son, Johnny, with him to a meeting between church officials and local neighborhoods. “Understandably there was a lot of emotion,” he said. “I’d be concerned, too, if someone was just putting an amphitheater in my backyard. But I sat there and listened to what they said, and they’re saying, ‘Listen, we’re going to abide by all ordinances, and we’re going to monitor it … we don’t want to be a distraction to the neighbors.” Grosch believes the church officials will stand by their promises.
PromiseLand West Executive Pastor Michael Heflin said the church has gone to great lengths to ensure sound will not be a nuisance to neighbors. He told the Gazette the church conducted three different sound studies. They wanted to understand existing sound and how it compares to the city ordinance levels, and also how sound travels on the existing topography. The studies showed that initial assumptions on positioning the amphitheater to minimize disturbance to neighbors were flawed.
Heflin said of conducting the studies, “It was great for us. Doing that, we actually moved the amphitheater so that we could control the sound on our property and not have it leaking off of our property from a sound concentration standpoint.” They gladly paid to have the plans redrawn, he said.
Additional sound mitigation will include large walls, earthen berms, a sound-absorbing canopy above the stage, and sound monitoring equipment along the perimeter to ensure that sound does not exceed city ordinance requirements.
Heflin said, “We know that our relationship with our closest neighbors out there will be highly impacted by how responsible we are with the amphitheater. Since we want to be there to help and be part of the lives of any and all of our close neighbors, we know that we have to be exceptionally responsible and so that’s what we doing. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Doug Todd of Scenic Brook lost his home in the Pinnacle Fire last April. He was not a member of PromiseLand West, but that didn’t stop the church from reaching out to him with emotional and financial support. “The people stepped up when they didn’t have to,” he said. “They felt it was the right thing to do. I know they have the right heart.”
As a former schoolteacher, Todd is concerned with saving young people from making bad choices. He said of the amphitheater, “In my opinion, I don’t know anything that would involve young people, and keep them off the streets better than a Christian-based amphitheater.” He added, “For people who have a doubt, in one year they will be totally amazed.”
Todd said after the church reached out to them, he and his wife, Janice, went to the church “to find out what it’s all about.” He said they will continue to go to that church “because of what they represent and what they stand for.”
Still, some local homeowners are unhappy that they were bypassed in the city’s process. Butler said they believe Greg Guernsey, director of the city’s Planning and Development Review Department, overstepped his authority by bypassing staff and allowing the amphitheater to be built via a restrictive covenant that did not address the association’s concerns.
Guernsey disagrees, telling the Gazette he made the determination only after consulting his staff and reviewing the documents presented by the church.
At this rate, only time will tell whether Dream City will be a benefit or a blight for the neighborhood. Said Heflin, “Any church that is not a benefit to the community has not yet fully demonstrated what Jesus Christ wants to do in the world.”
In the meantime, Johnny Grosch is looking forward to riding the hike and bike trail with his dad.