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Noise concerns put Larsa permit in peril
Neighbors of the Larsa Event Center on E. Monte Vista Avenue frequently file complaints with the Stanislaus County Sheriffs Department regarding noise levels coming from the center, resulting in the facility possibly having its Conditional Use Permit revoked pending a decision by the county Planning Commission. - photo by CARA HALLAM/The Journal

Due to multiple noise complaints from neighboring properties, the Larsa Event Center, located on E. Monte Visa Avenue may have its Conditional Use Permit revoked pending a decision by the Stanislaus County Planning Commission.

According to county Department of Planning and Community Development staff, the Planning Commission had made a decision in November 2013 to give the event center and Mar, Addai Church, which meets at the location, six months to be in compliance with the County’s Conditions of Approval while showing “good faith efforts towards resolving the church’s impacts on the neighborhood.” Additionally, staff cited four violations of the Use Permit and County Code which had been presented to the Planning Commission previously, including going beyond operating hours, excessive noise ordinance violations, non-permitted building improvements and having three non-permitted storage structures on site.

Since the meeting in November, the event center has received three verified complaints regarding excessive noise levels, breaking the conditions the Planning Commission had set forth. The first complaint occurred on Nov. 23, 2013, when a Stanislaus County Sheriff’s deputy noted that the bass noise coming from the hall was loud enough to be heard from a home over 200 feet away. The second violation, filed with the sheriff’s department on Jan. 26, stated that the music ended at 10 p.m., before a third complaint on Feb. 8 verified that music could be faintly heard from the backyard of a neighboring residence.

Although the event center has since been issued a Building Permit to legalize the non-permitted building improvements that had been made in addition to filing for permits for the unpermitted storage structures at the location, the Planning Commission will first need to decide whether or not to begin the revocation proceedings before County staff can sign-off on the filed permits. Should the Planning Commission decide not to begin the revocation process, the application to legalize the unpermitted storage structures will be approved by County staff.

Representing the Larsa Event Center throughout the process has been attorney Brett Dickerson, who provided the County with a summary of steps taken to address noise emanating from the church site. According to Dickerson, noise is the not the issue as evidenced by a noise assessment dated on Feb. 28. While noise and low frequency “beat” noises do not exceed the decibel levels recommended for the residential zone, the bass noise has been determined as impacting the neighbors. As such, the church has opted to implement precautionary measures as recommended by a noise assessment conducted by acoustics consultant group J.C. Brennan & Associates.

According to Dickerson, the majority of the high-decibel noise in all monitor locations during the time that an event is taking place at the center stems from ambient sources, including neighborhood noise, traffic on E. Monte Vista Avenue and train horns.

“The measured decibel level from the actual music itself is well below the maximum recorded sound level at any one time and was consistent with the average decibel level recorded during the same period,” said Dickerson in a letter sent to the Stanislaus County Planning Department, noting the assessment conducted by J.C. Brennan & Associates. “This indicates that, at least from a decibel standpoint, the Event Center is adding little, if any, excessive noise to the surrounding area.”

Neighbors of the event center, which primarily hosts weddings, receptions and holiday gatherings, seem to disagree. According to Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department records, 42 noise disturbance calls have been received regarding the Larsa Event Center from the west and northwest neighboring residences of Amethyst Way and N. Quincy Road since 2009, in addition to 19 complaints received at County Supervisor Vito Chiesa’s office from 2012 to 2013.  

Although the low frequency bass coming from the center during events has a 40 to 44 maximum decibel level, which was determined as being well below the ambient sources such as traffic and train horns, the nature of the “thumping” beat is the most common source of the neighbors’ complaints.

To address this concern, owners of the Larsa Event Center have recently installed a noise monitoring system in measuring the decibel levels while music is playing, specifically targeting low frequency sounds. The system not only measures the levels to ensure that the music is under compliance with the County’s noise ordinance, but also features an alert light that indicates when the music has become too loud.

With the system in place and lowered bass levels, Dickerson reported that a test confirmed music was not audible beyond 200 feet. Added measures also include filling the area beneath the stage and adjacent walls with loose insulation material to further dampen reverberations.

Although the consultant firm’s test confirmed that Larsa’s steps to mitigate noise concerns was well-below allowed levels and within compliance of the County’s noise ordinance, County staff reported receiving an email from an Amethyst Way neighbor who was concerned that the recent trial period occurred during the church’s slow time and, as such, is “not an accurate reflection” of the number of events that occur on the church property during summer months. In response, the County sent notices to the neighbors of the event center citing the results of recent noise assessment, improvements made to the church including added insulation, and the installation of the noise detection system.

Should the Planning Commission determine that the event center violated any of the conditions set forth in November, the item would be brought back to the commission at their next meeting to conduct a full hearing to consider revoking the center’s use permit.

The Planning Commission could decide to request more time to determine whether or not the new insulation and noise alert system is successfully mitigating the noise, in which case the item would be brought back to the Planning Commission after a suitable trial period.