Fox Island’s chapel is too noisy, next-door neighbors argue. They’ve filed a lawsuit

There are 11 weddings on the books between now and October at the 120-year-old Chapel on Echo Bay on Fox Island.

Neighbors Paul and Julie Harding would like them kept indoors and for there to be measures to keep the noise under control.

“My clients are not trying to close the chapel, have it torn down, have it removed or anything like that,” attorney Margaret Archer told The News Tribune.

They want the events there to be quieter.

Archer filed a lawsuit on the Hardings’ behalf June 5, and was in Pierce County Superior Court Friday to ask for a preliminary injunction, to put restrictions on events at the chapel while the lawsuit goes forward.

Judge Stanley Rumbaugh declined to do that for now, but noted that the decision doesn’t bind the court if the lawsuit goes to trial.

In arguing for the preliminary restrictions, Archer told the judge her clients have a right to enjoy their property.

“They say indoor weddings are fine with us, indoor receptions are OK with us,” if steps are taken regarding noise, such as not allowing amplified music, Archer told the judge.

She argued that the chapel has been operating as an event center since it was acquired by the Fox Island Chapel Preservation Society in 2000, and that it’s been doing so without a conditional-use permit. They only applied for one recently, she said.

The issue of permitting is expected to go before a hearing examiner later this year.

Mark Nelson, the attorney for the Fox Island Chapel Preservation Society, told the judge that the chapel has been working as diligently as it can to comply with what the county wants.

“This is a nonprofit volunteer board operating on a budget of about $100,000 a year,” Nelson said.

He argued that the county’s been aware of the chapel’s uses since 1900.

“They didn’t play loud rock and roll music in 1900,” Judge Rumbaugh interjected

They did in the ‘70s and ‘80s, though, Nelson replied.

The attorney also noted that the chapel is named for the body of water it’s on: Echo Bay.

The bay has its name, he said, because you can hear everything that’s going on from one end to the other.

“Wait, that’s because it echos, right?” Rumbaugh asked, tongue-in-cheek.

The gallery, apparently full of Fox Islanders, laughed.

Archer told the judge the lawsuit is a last resort.

“Nobody wants to be the pariah of the neighborhood,” she said.

The Hardings asked the chapel to control the noise in 2017, without success, the lawsuit alleges.

“Music at the Society’s events is often so loud that the Hardings can hear the music inside their home,” the complaint says. “Making the situation worse, it is not uncommon, even with indoor events, for guests to gather outside (for) prolonged periods of time in which they are loud, sometimes yelling profanities and smoking near the Hardings’ property line.”

For now, weddings at the chapel will continue as usual.

But Rumbaugh said the number of them should be similar to other years.

“If you think that they’re just loading them up, let me know,” he told Archer.

She said she would.

Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.