Religious center’s compatibility debated in Clearview

CLEARVIEW —  Dozens of neighbors in Clearview want to have sound controlled from activities at a destination religious assembly facility located on rural land, and want to block a proposal asking to permanently change the use of the facility from a horse barn to a religious services center.
County Hearing Examiner Peter Camp is deciding whether to approve a conditional use permit for the Husaynia Islamic Society of Seattle to upgrade a barn's interior to be a better worship center.
The site is along State Street, a two-lane road parallel to Broadway. The center bought a former horse arena in 2019.
Annual special events permits have allowed some religious gatherings here since 2020. County planners stopped this practice when approving this year's special event permit which lasted to Sept. 30. They attached a specific note saying this would be the final one.
Husaynia's land use representative Onum Esonu said the upgrades proposed would meet all of the county codes.
Esonu said the upgrades will add soundproofing. Camp said at a hearing last week that he wants exact details on what soundproofing will be done, and said these details could be a condition he'd require if he approves the permit.
County code allows religious facilities on rural R-5 land as conditional uses.
Neighbors seeking peaceful quiet say a place of worship, though, doesn't fit with rural life. They also say this center doesn't serve the immediate neighborhood, unlike a country store or similar, meaning it is inconsistent with what can receive a conditional use permit for uses of rural land.
The facility hosts weekly religious gatherings indoors, mostly happening from 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., its application states. Gatherers come more frequently for daytime ceremonies during midsummer for Muharram and in spring for Ramadan.
Irritated neighbors say they can hear it from their properties.
David Johnson lives about 400 feet away. He aired an audio clip he recorded from his yard where chants could be heard. It was on loud speakers, he said, which are amplified enough that make the barn into one big speaker.
"My kids have been woken up at 9, 10 at night from abrupt screaming into the microphone from five properties north," neighbor Deanna Herbert testified.
In summer, it causes Elena Gilbertson and her husband Greg to have to go inside their home to block out sound, they said.
Husaynia's leader Abidi Zahra denied the center uses any outdoor loudpseakers. "I know at times sound has gone out," Zahra said. She blames the barn's thin walls. The soundproofing would fix that, Husaynia's supporters say.
At the hearing, Camp directed county planning staff to submit copies of all special permits over the past three years and any incident reports from the sheriff's office for code or noise violations. Their deadline is Oct. 28.
Husaynia is a Shia, or Shiite, facility. Shiites make up about 15% of all Muslims worldwide, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Muslims in the Sunni and Ahmadi denominations go to different religious centers that teach differing branches of Islam.
Husaynia worshippers from the broader Snohomish County area testified how important this site is because of how few Shia centers exist. Husaynia also conducts services at a Christian church it borrows time at in Kenmore.
Some Shiites describe themselves as "a minority within a minority within a minority," as one Husaynia worshipper, Khan Madi Hussain of Bothell, put it at the hearing.
Zahra said the whole state has just three Shia centers.
Husaynia says there may be up to 80 people who come to services at its center.
But the activities are generating complaints.
Neighbors emphasize it is not because it is an Islamic center.
"I'm not hearing complaints from neighbors about the religion — that is not it," Cathleen Gustafson said, but when neighbors moved here, they expected quiet.
Another, Vanner Elander, mentioned that a Christian church that set up on 91st Avenue SE had to relocate in the past 15 years because of incompatibility. He identified it as The Pursuit Church, which now has grown to occupy a space at Second and Pine streets in Snohomish.
The rules on allowing churches on rural areas are for churches serving the immediate area. "This is not our church, how can it be approved?" a neighboring resident testified.
More than 50 people testified at the Oct. 13 hearing which lasted nearly five hours.
The site used to be the Corterra Farms horse arena.
Husayn was the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson. Shias do a ceremonial beating of their chests as part of honoring of him.