Nearby neighborhoods requested and received support from the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN) in a May 13 resolution to oppose the issuance of a sound permit for the LifeAustin venue (above).
by Ann Fowler
With construction of a controversial 1,000 fixed-seat outdoor amphitheater at the LifeAustin church nearing completion, the final step is a permit to allow amplified sound for the performances—the long-held dream of Pastor Randy Phillips, founder of the popular contemporary Christian music trio Phillips, Craig and Dean.
But one man’s dream can be another’s nightmare, and some nearby residents are fearful that the sound from the amphitheater will destroy the tranquility of their neighborhoods. To that end, the neighborhoods requested and received support from the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN) in a May 13 resolution to oppose the issuance of a sound permit for an outdoor music venue as well as to “revoke the site development permit as to the outdoor amphitheater.”
Typical of such disputes, not all residents are against the amphitheater. Some locals support it, while others are willing to give the church the benefit of the doubt. “A large number of neighbors are incredibly excited about this,” said Pastor Phillips.
He added that 30 residents from local neighborhoods recently received a tour of the amphitheater. “Our sound team, our design team, the builders were there, and the residents asked a number of questions,” he said.
“An amazing number came up to our team afterwards and said they had no idea the amount of work we went to to mitigate the sound neighborhoods might hear,” he added.
LifeAustin’s Pastor John Capezzuti explained the mitigation work at the amphitheater, called the Outdoor Worship Center, to the Gazette: “The audio design that has been developed for the new Outdoor Worship Center at LifeAustin has been guided from the beginning with critical consideration for the surrounding neighborhoods and communities.”
• “Best of the best” directional speakers
• Site orientation of the venue on the property
• Construction of approximately 280 linear feet of sound attenuation walls
• Installation of sound absorbing theatrical acoustic wall board and lapidary ceiling panels at the stage and covered seating areas
• A state-of the-art decibel monitoring system at the property lines
The church has invested a small fortune to make sure sound is not an issue, but some of those who toured the facility did not like the idea of an outdoor facility when it was first pitched in 2007, and they don’t like it now.
David VanDelinder of Hill Country Estates, told the Gazette, “We do not believe the sound mitigation plans proposed by the church will protect our neighborhood from the impact of this amphitheater and the resulting decline in our property values.”
Al St. Louis of the Westview Estates neighborhood asked, “Are we dealing with a church or a commercial music business? The church appears to be a front for the business. The amphitheater is outrageous because of the character of the rural residential neighborhood. This obnoxious intrusion into our peaceful, generally quiet neighborhood is most unwanted. I say enclose it and soundproof it!”
Although residents are concerned that rock concerts could be held in the outdoor amphitheater, church representatives say the intended uses for it include church activities such as weddings, funerals and educational and musical presentations, as well as non-church related uses like neighborhood meetings, scout meetings, graduations and charitable fundraisers.
The city granted the church a restrictive covenant that allows the amphitheater as long as no commercial for-profit events are held.
Westview Estates resident Shelly Branch is more concerned with the live music venue at Señor Buddy’s at Circle Drive and U.S. 290 West. She has heard rumors that it may increase in size, and is uneasy about being sandwiched between two outdoor music venues.
Branch added, “Its bad enough with all the traffic, sirens, and other noise by Señor Buddy’s. Now we have a huge venue and group of folks that think that just because they are a church it’s okay to disrupt my peace and tranquility. It’s not okay.”
One difference between the two is that LifeAustin is within the city limits while Señor Buddy’s is not. The Gazette asked representatives of Señor Buddy’s to comment on whether they had received any noise complaints, but have yet to receive a response.
Bob Moore of Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty’s office said, “All complaints where the noise level is over 85 decibels and a complaint is voiced would cause the County to get involved.”
The city of Austin has a more restrictive sound ordinance to protect residential areas from amplified sound:
• A person may not use sound equipment that produces sound audible beyond the property line of a residence in a residential area between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.
• A person may not use sound equipment audible beyond the property line of a residence in a residential area that produces sound in excess of 75 decibels.
Still, some locals feel that 75 decibels is too loud in a residential area, while others do not want to be subjected to “church music.”
Westview Estates resident Larraine Branch said, “I have lived here way too long to be forced to listen to music I don’t choose to listen to.”
Pastor Phillips is adamant in his conviction that the amphitheater will be a community resource the community will embrace. “It will be the crown jewel of southwest Austin,” he said.
“We will hold movie nights where you can bring your children and grandchildren,” he said, with Austin food trucks available to offer a true Austin experience in a safe environment.
LifeAustin sits on a 53-acre site at 8701 State Highway 71 West. The church had 700 members when it moved to Oak Hill from Westlake early in 2013. Officials put current membership figures at 4,000.
Pastor Phillips anticipates having the sound permit approved by early June. But VanDeLinder promises, “We will be clearly present and vocal at any hearing to consider this request.”
Pastor Capezzuti said, “LifeAustin is committed to being a good neighbor to those who live and work nearby. We have and will continue to welcome all of the local communities and the general public to utilize facilities on our site including a disc golf course, dog park, volleyball courts and walking/jogging trails.”
Church officials say many of the local residents come to enjoy these amenities, with some actually joining the church.
“We will continue to be a good neighbor and we believe this venue will be a valuable asset and blessing to the Oak Hill community, and to the Austin metro area as well,” said Pastor Capezzuti.