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Element takes heat at Oak Harbor City Council meeting

In the presence of fed-up Bayshore Drive residents, Element Nightclub owner Mike Kummerfeld defends his business before the Oak Harbor City Council Monday evening at City Hall.  - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
In the presence of fed-up Bayshore Drive residents, Element Nightclub owner Mike Kummerfeld defends his business before the Oak Harbor City Council Monday evening at City Hall.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

Bayshore Drive residents who live near downtown’s Element Nightclub sent the Oak Harbor City Council a clear message this week.

They say something needs to change, and soon, because the existing situation isn’t working.

Fed up with problems ranging from late-night noise to drunken patrons urinating on their homes, a handful of property owners descended on City Hall Monday evening to attend a hearing in which Police Chief Rick Wallace gave the council a detailed report on criminal activity and 911 calls that originated at the club over the past year.

Although the annual report, which is one of several conditions attached to the club’s operating permit with the city, claimed marked improvement over 2009, downtown residents said things have not improved.

In fact, they claimed the only reason Wallace’s report indicates a reduction in calls is because they have given up reporting problems to the police.

“It doesn’t do any good,” said Billy Cook, a Bayshore resident.

Homeowners have been complaining for years, and although the city council has made attempts to settle the problems with restrictions attached to the Element’s license, the problems continue to persist.

Five property owners, including Cook, claimed that excessive noise at the club’s 2 a.m. closing time is as bad as ever. Revving motors, car stereos so loud they rattle the windows; people are even urinating on their buildings, according to BayShore Drive resident Gray Giordan.

“There’s a huge disconnect where our problems start and where the law takes over,” he said.

Although police have and do respond to calls, it’s a battle that just can’t be won. The fact is that nightclubs like Element are not appropriate for residential areas, Giordan said.

Club owner Mike Kummerfeld also attended the meeting. Pleading for understanding from the city council, Kummerfeld said he’s done everything the city has asked of him and continues to try and be a good neighbor.

“I’m not a bad guy,” he said. “I’m just trying to run a business.”

Kummerfeld also said there are two sides to every story. While he can’t “control human nature,” he’s done what he can to control customers who are leaving the club, from requiring their quick departure to picking up cigarette butts.

“I really don’t see what all the fuss is about,” he said.

He claimed he’s even attempted to personally speak with distressed property owners in the past but that his attempts have been rebuffed.

Kummerfeld did have some supporters in the crowd. Mel Vance, a regular at city council meetings, said he thought many of the complaints were embellished and driven by personal desires to see the club relocated.

“I think much of this is being grossly exaggerated in order to get Element out of there,” Vance said.

Although Chief Wallace didn’t endorse the club, he did make it clear that Kummerfeld was upholding his end of the bargain concerning the conditions of his operating permit. And the evidence is in the numbers.

According to Wallace, police received 50 relevant 911 calls in 2010, which is fewer than the last nine months of 2009.

However, despite Kummerfeld’s best efforts to do his part, the restrictions may just not be enough to see and end to the problems.

“That’s the quandary but there is no answer to that,” Wallace said.

Several city council members expressed consternation at being seemingly powerless to address the problem. While it could revoke the club’s license, it would be a lengthy process and could only be done if Kummerfeld failed to adhere to the conditions of his permit.

“I’m truly at a loss,” City Councilman Jim Campbell said. “I have no good solutions.”

Councilmen Rick Almberg and Jim Palmer supported increasing the conditions of the club’s license agreement by requiring Kummerfeld to hire off-duty police, while Councilman Danny Paggao suggested additional review in six months.

In the end, the city council agreed to a 90-day review period in which police, city staff, and the downtown residents all sit down together in an attempt to come up with a solution.

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