City turns up heat on Element nightclub
By JUSTIN BURNETT
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
September 9, 2011 · Updated 2:50 PM
An Oak Harbor nightclub owner will not be forced to hire off-duty police officers, or a private security firm, to help keep noisy patrons in line.
However, Mike Kummerfeldt, owner of Element nightclub on Bayshore Drive, is being asked to develop and make available to city decision-makers a plan that specifies how his in-house security will tackle the issue.
It was a last ditch suggestion proposed by City Councilman Bob Severns Tuesday night. It came after Police Chief Rick Wallace said hiring police officers was not a viable option and several other council members confessed they didn’t know what else the city can legally do to solve the problem.
“You are the best one to handle this,” Severns said.
While Kummerfeldt agreed to the proposal, he seemed doubtful it would lead to a resolution as he claimed his own security force is already doing everything it can. That the issue continues to be a problem, despite numerous attempts on behalf of city officials to control the situation, is leading him to believe that only two options are left.
“I’ve been trying to be a good neighbor; I’m open to any ideas that help out the situation,” he said. “But I think what it’s going to come down to ... you guys either need to shut me down or tell the neighbors, hey it’s legitimate,” Kummerfeldt said.
Element opened in 2007. Although the club’s business license is besieged with conditions aimed at mitigating the effects of the nighttime hangout, from the number of required security personnel to mandatory meetings with city police, residents of an adjacent condominium complex claim that the noise from the club at closing time is out of control.
They have repeatedly approached the city council begging for elected officials to take action. Most recently, in July, after hearing once again from fed-up residents, Chief Wallace was tasked with looking into whether paid police officers or security might help.
Wallace came back Tuesday and reported that a poll conducted among his officers indicated that none want to work at the club voluntarily as a second job. As for forcing Kummerfeldt to hire a private security firm, Wallace said that is a legal option but that he couldn’t verify whether it would be any more effective than Kummerfeldt’s current staff.
Wallace repeated what he’s said in the past, that he believes few crimes are actually being committed. While it’s clear that residents are hearing noise and that it’s keeping them up at night and is a disturbance, he said most of the noise complaints are unfounded or don’t actually violate the city’s noise ordinance.
He said he believes what they are hearing are normal conversations that are increased by alcohol. People yelling at the top of their lungs have been arrested in the past but noise generally needs to be continuous; one or two yells is not enough to run afoul of the law.
“Otherwise our officers would be chasing after jets or church bells,” Wallace said.
Several people testified at Tuesday’s meeting. Steve Boughner, a neighbor, said the noise goes on all night long and that he’s even had visiting family members suffer property damage from raucous Element customers.
After the meeting, he said he believed the newest condition won’t work and that the only solution is to move the club.
Oak Harbor resident Paul Newman also spoke at the meeting. He said gunplay can happen outside of businesses and that Element is a tragedy just waiting to happen.
“There are ticking time-bombs and you know this is one of them,” Newman said.
While Kummerfeldt agreed to Severns’ suggestion to create a written plan that will outline how his security force is to handle parking lot noise, he reminded the city council that his is a legal business and that he has met all the conditions imposed on him.
He said it appears that the city council is looking for “absolute silence” from people leaving his club. Not only is that unrealistic, but he said he is unwilling to police his customers in such a manner.
“I can’t ask people when they leave to whisper,” Kummerfeldt said.
He suggested again that, sooner or later, a choice will have to be made.
“It’s either us or them,” Kummerfeldt said. “They won’t be happy until our doors close.”
In a later interview, Wallace said he is optimistic the parking lot plan will help reduce after-hours noise as a written guide that security employees can follow will standardize their response and may make them more efficient. However, he’s not so hopeful it will solve the problem in the eyes of neighbors.
“Will it rise to the satisfaction of condominium owners? I doubt it,” Wallace said.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Justin Burnett at email@example.com or 360-675-6611 ext. 5054.