A divided Leesburg Town Council did not move forward on proposed noise ordinance changes that would have applied the regulations to religious services.
According to a memo prepared by Town Attorney Barbara Notar, the town staff has received numerous complaints from residents on Harrison Street about loud music and noise coming from religious services of a church that is leasing space at the nearby Elijah’s Gate Christian Center. Notar’s memo states that these church services can extend into the late night and early morning hours. “Despite Town staff’s efforts to speak to church officials—both with the church who is causing the excessive noise and the church that has leased the space, noise complaints continue to occur,” she wrote.
Leesburg’s noise regulations provide an exception for “religious services, religious events, or religious activities or expressions,” thereby tying the hands of the town staff in enforcement.
But the Town Council could change that.
Notar wrote that the religion exception, “is not constitutionally mandated and several other Virginia localities (i.e., Fairfax County) have legally and constitutionally prohibited excessive noise from religious services.”
But if Tuesday night’s meeting is any indication, the council does not appear to be jumping at a chance to make the change. The council deadlocked 3-3 to initiate changes to the noise ordinance to explore extending the regulations to religious services. Council members Bruce Gemmill, Tom Dunn and Suzanne Fox voted against the measure. Councilman Marty Martinez was absent for the vote.
Gemmill reached out to Loudoun Now on Thursday to provide an update on the situation. In an email, Gemmill said he was told that the church that had leased space at Elijah’s Gate Christian Center moved out a month ago. Gemmill spoke with the property’s landlord, who also confirmed the group moved out, after he had asked them to vacate. A new church tenant moved into the property on Wednesday and has a stipulation in their lease that no noise may be made from church services after 8 p.m. According to Gemmill’s email, the landlord was on the property when the new tenants moved in and reiterated this rule to them, with the group confirming their understanding on the matter.
“The bottom line is this…If we had voted for the amendment, we would have needlessly passed a regulation on religious services in general, not just on this one individual church,” Gemmill wrote. “We are regulated to death as it is. Before we vote on burdening the public, whether religious or secular, with yet one more regulation, we should be more diligent to trust the good sense of the private sector to work things out. Sometimes, all it takes is cordial communication.”