At Otis church, neighbors lament (not so) joyful noise

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OTIS — Outdoor services at a local church have prompted concerns by neighbors who complain that the music is too loud — and sometimes at an ungodly hour.

Church officials, though, dispute allegations that the music sometimes begins as early as 7 a.m. on weekends.

The First Congregational Church in Otis began holding services, including music, on the green in front of the church this summer, according to James Siena, who lives with his wife, Katia Santibanez, directly across North Main Road (Route 8) in a converted, red-brick farmhouse.

"We asked them why they were doing this and they said, `Because God has called us to this place and God wants us to do this and worship,' " Siena said. "They have a music festival in July and they set up a sound system with no consideration for the neighbors.

"They are annoyed because we are annoyed," he added.

Siena said the sound during Sunday services also can be "very loud and has very heavy bass."

The neighbors of the 225-year-old congregation, located next to the town library and museum, say they just want the outdoor music to stop, or at least be played at a more reasonable hour of the day. Every day during the July evangelical festival week, amplified music was played on the front lawn under a tent, they said.

The Rev. Nelson Crapser, pastor of the Evangelical Christian congregation, said the church has allowed different groups to use the green, but he said they mostly started in the evening. The green encompasses an area about 100 square feet with a large outdoor tent, two picnic tables, a few chairs and a wooden platform protected by a tarp tied to nearby trees.

"Our church services don't start until 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, and yes, there was a weeklong series on the green in July. But we are only here on Sundays," he said. "I would even be upset if someone were waking me up at 7 a.m."

He said the church was not trying to be "belligerent" and added, "We feel we have stuff to offer the community, and some people might want to join us."

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Crapser recalled the day that Siena used his Fender bass amplifier to blast opera music back at the congregation. The music by opera singer Beniamino Gigli could be heard over the pastor's sermon.

"We thought it was kind of funny — one parishioner thought we were playing the music while I was preaching," he said.

Lenny Terranova, 86, a 50-year resident of Otis and a neighbor of the church, said the trees block the sound to his home, which is only two doors away. But, he noted that Siena's home is directly across the street from the green.

"I can't say that it's loud or that it bothers me — the problem is that the speakers face right at his house, so he gets the brunt of the sound," Terranova said. "I told him who to call, but there is no law against it."

Rebecca Stone, the Otis town administrator, said there was "no noise ordinance in Otis." She suggested that the church was within its rights, but pointed out that Siena, who has a full band setup in his home, also was free to play music as he likes.

"We suggested that he speak with the church rather than create an ordinance," Stone said. "Why all of a sudden the church is doing this? Maybe they are seeking new members or fundraising. But we can't enforce what we don't have."

Stone said an ordinance could cause its own problems, as the town would have to be able to monitor sound decibels, which could impact those doing early morning lawn mowing or tree cutting. "[And] that might exceed noise limits when people just want to get things done before the heat of the day."

Santibanez was incredulous to the pastor's claim that there was no loud music in the morning, and she played a recording from her iPhone of her interaction with a group that was using the green for its evangelical efforts and playing loud music.

"It was 7:30 in the morning that we had the conversation," she said. "It's true."

The time stamp on the video recording: Saturday, 7:21 a.m.


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