An attempt by owners of the Elegant Gardens in Kennewick to convert their home-based wedding consultant and reception business into a church was rejected Thursday.
The Kennewick Board of Adjustment voted 4-0 to deny Cole and Julie Morgan's appeal to set up a church inside their home at 3400 S. Jean St.
The couple wanted the board to overturn city staff's denial of a conditional use permit.
It took two votes and more than an hour of closed-door deliberations before the board made a decision.
The city previously denied the Morgans' request to hold wedding receptions and backyard pool parties on their 21/2 acres because of neighbors' concerns about parking and traffic congestion in the neighborhood and complaints about loud noise and litter.
Thursday's meeting was to decide on the appeal based on public testimony at a June 9 board meeting.
Before voting, board member Connie Gillespie told the Morgans it appeared as though having the backyard events center -- not a church -- was the real reason behind the appeal.
Board members Sheri Richards, Mel Lacey and Chairman Joe Kadinger joined in the unanimous denial.
"A residential area is to protect and stabilize and provide a suitable environment for family life. Having parties and wedding receptions with 200 people or more and dozens of cars coming and going is not promoting suitable family life," Gillespie said.
Cole Morgan told the Herald earlier Thursday that he felt called to start a church.
His application said church services would be held Wednesday evenings and that church-related events such as weddings would be scheduled as backyard, poolside events seven days a week.
Morgan said he was ordained seven years ago through the United Ministries of California and has performed hundreds of weddings since then.
"If they don't grant us a church, it could be considered discriminatory," Julie Morgan said Thursday.
Cole Morgan has a city business license for home-based portrait photography and a wedding planning business but not to conduct wedding receptions or private parties.
City records say neighborhood complaints started piling up in 2005, leading to a city order to stop doing wedding parties, and a court order in September 2008 prohibiting them.
A contempt order was issued against the Morgans in late 2009 for violating that court order.
By then, however, the Morgans were asking for a permit to continue the wedding reception business, and in January 2010 applied for a permit to run the church.
City staff denied the permit for the wedding receptions in March and later rejected the request for the church.
Wes Romine, Kennewick's development services manager, determined the church was not a principal use, and that the wedding activities were the primary reason for wanting to have the church.
Ten of the Morgan's neighbors sent letters opposing the proposed church.
The Morgans can take the issue to Benton County Superior Court but told the Herald before the hearing that they didn't know if they would.