City grants conditional use permit for Railroad District church to have events in its parking lot off 2nd Street
By Damian Mann for Ashland.news
The Story, an Ashland church known for its rousing Sunday services, is ready for a party.
On Monday, the city granted The Story a conditional use permit to hold up to four events a year in the church parking lot.
Previously the 5-year-old Christian church, located at 318 B Street, had the ability to hold one event a year in the parking lot. But because of the pandemic it has only been able to hold a single event in the summer of 2019, filled with music, bouncy houses for kids and food trucks.
At the time, up to 2,000 people came through during what was billed as The Story Block Party.
“We thought it would be cool to do this more than one time a year,” said Lead Pastor Xavier Brasseur.
He said the pandemic restrictions have lifted and more people are getting out and about.
The upcoming parking lot events, which haven’t been scheduled yet, would typically be offered to coincide with First Friday celebrations in the downtown. The long, narrow parking lot has 23 spaces.
Brasseur said the approval from the city now allows the church to start planning for events.
The Story asks members to provide their life stories during services, which are filled with music, lights and entertainment while still offering a more traditional sermon. Worship music tends to be louder and more rock-inspired.
“Some people say it looks more like a nightclub than a church,” Brasseur said.
The Story creates a creative and artistic space in keeping with the local community. Still the church attracts people from all over the region, including from Mt. Shasta and Eagle Point, Brasseur said.
The church appeals to a younger crowd, but Brasseur said people of all ages come to the services.
Brandon Goldman, Ashland Community Development Director, said the city received a number of positive comments, and the biggest concern was the impact on parking, since B Street is located near the downtown and the Ashland Food Co-op. Noise and congestion were other issues voiced by residents.
He said he signed the conditional use permit on Monday. The deadline to file an appeal is May 1.
Goldman said that because of Oregon’s recently enacted Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities, the city no longer requires parking for commercial enterprises within a half mile of a transit hub, referring to the nearby bus line.
In The Story’s application to the city, it says many of its members walk or cycle to the church.
Goldman said the city did place some restrictions on the events, such as only allowing three food trucks and being required to stop the four-hour events at 8 p.m.
A permit to have amplified music would also be required. According to the application with the city, the speakers would be pointed into the parking lot and away from neighbors.
Brasseur said he’s not sure how many of the four events his church will actually offer in a given year.
Many of the people who are likely to show up at the event are already in the downtown celebrating First Friday, Brasseur said.
While First Fridays will be when most events occur, the conditional use permit doesn’t restrict the day of the week they can occur.
He said the outdoor music will not be like a rock concert.
“We want to be respectful of our neighbors,” Brasseur said.
The church, which began with about 20 people, numbers about 400 members, but on Easter Sunday some 600 people showed up for the two indoor services, he said.
In the summer of 2017, The Story began in the Butler Bandshell in Lithia Park, with people sitting on the grass. Then, it began to rent out the Community Center and on its first Sunday it reached 140 people, the maximum occupancy.
In February 2018, The Christian Church of Ashland donated its 10,000-square-foot building to The Story.
Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org.