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Temple decisions tabled, delayed again

CODY —- Yet again, the city of Cody Planning and Zoning board has delayed making final decisions on the proposed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple to be located off Skyline Drive, as members tabled approval of the site plan during their July 25 special meeting — for the third time.

The site plan was tabled to allow the city and the applicant to work out a development agreement for the proposed temple.

Also, the board will now no longer have to act on the special exemption request for the temple’s height because the church rescinded that portion of the application, P&Z Board Chair Carson Rowley said.

The only progress made at the special meeting was finalizing the findings of fact related to the conditional use permit.

The special exemption request

The LDS church withdrew its special exemption request from its application before the July 25 meeting, Rowley said.

The exemption dealt with the 101 foot height of the temple.

“I was actually pretty disappointed to see the special exemption withdrawn,” he said. “One of the biggest concerns people have is the total height, and now that’s been pulled off. It’s hard for me.”

LDS lawsuit

Regarding LDS’ recent lawsuit filed against the city, the board considered correcting the June 15 meeting minutes to say it had actually approved the site plan when three of the five members present voted in favor of it, as the lawsuit argued.

“The votes we made were under the pretense of what was discussed at the meeting,” Rowley said. “I can totally understand where both sides are coming from on that one.”

Board member Matthew Moss made a motion to amend the minutes to say the site plan had passed. It was seconded by member Scott Richard.

“A majority of the board [on June 15] said the site plan should pass,” Richard added.

Board members Josh White, Moss and Richard voted in favor of the motion while Rowley, Kim Borer and Dan Schein voted against, causing the motion to fail.

The site plan

The site plan has now been tabled three times — at the meetings on June 15, June 27 and now July 25.

Members expressed “disappointment” and “frustration” that a development agreement had not been drafted.

“Last time, this item was on our agenda, and we tabled it under the pretext the applicant and city would discuss something in the realm of a development agreement,” Rowley said. “We haven’t heard any update on that.”

City Planner Todd Stowell — although he didn’t attend the meeting among Mayor Matt Hall, the applicants and the Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods group — said, “My understanding is no concessions were made by either party.”

LDS counsel Kendal Hoopes told the board they had “extensive” discussions with the city attorney and presented various ideas.

“The church would like to continue negotiations, but no agreement was reached,” he said.

City Attorney Scott Kolpitcke said the meeting did not lead to any “resolution,” and the conversation had “stalled out.”

Rowley said, “We are back in the same shoes as last time” in regards to approving or denying the site plan.

White agreed, saying “There had been an attempt at making progress, but nothing has happened.”

When the discussion returned to the site plan, Borer maintained her position on the temple’s elevation.

“It comes back to elevation. We can’t take the one- story structure plus whatever that thing is on top,” she said. “It’s higher than what I would vote for for any type of building.”

Though a majority of the site plan, in Rowley’s opinion, was “well done,” he said “it comes down to concerns about lighting. One of the concerns is that they’re lighting up a rural residential neighborhood.”

Rowley and Moss suggested the temple lights be turned off from midnight to 5 a.m., but Hoopes said the church would need an opportunity to review that idea.

Schein disagreed, saying, “I don’t feel it’s our job as a board to propose what these lighting changes should be since the applicant knows there are concerns about lighting.”

After the discussion ended, Rowley said, “I don’t know how to get from point A to point B and get all parties on the same side.”

Richard said his concern was making a decision on the site plan without a development agreement.

Borer suggested denying the site plan and giving the applicant another chance to resubmit it with proposed changes.

Moss made the first motion to approve the site plan.

White, Rowley, Borer and Schein voted against, while Moss and Richard voted in favor. The motion failed.

Moss made another motion to approve all of the site plan except the architectural lighting portion.

White, Borer and Schein voted against, while Moss, Rowley and Richard voted in favor. That motion also failed.

White then made a motion to table the site plan with the condition a development agreement is presented to the board.

White, Schein and Richard voted in favor, while Moss, Rowley and Borer voted against. That motion failed.

“Seeing no appetite to approve or table the site plan,” Rowley made a motion to deny the site plan with the caveat that the temple’s lighting be addressed.

“The purpose is for the applicant to resubmit the site plan,” he added.

White, Rowley and Schein voted in favor, while Moss, Borer and Richard voted against. The motion also failed.

Moss made a motion to approve the site plan with the condition the architectural lights be shut off from midnight to 5 a.m. It died for a lack of a second.

Rowley told the board he would change his initial negative vote if there were another motion to table the site plan.

Moss made a motion to table it. White, Moss, Rowley, Schein and Richard voted in favor, while Borer voted against. The motion passed.

Findings of fact for conditional use permit

In addition to approving the amendments suggested during the board’s July 19 work session, the board took out more “subjective” words and added in more “factual statements” to the conditional use permit’s finding of facts.

At the July 25 meeting, Rowley wanted to further amend the finding that “a significant portion of the community view the temple as attractive.”

He suggested the finding read, “a portion of the community have viewed the temple as attractive. The grounds proposed will be well-kept and arched doorways and different architecture is consistent with some other historic buildings in Cody.”

The board reworked the “building height” finding to say “the highest point of the high roof on the temple building as indicated on pages A201 and A202 of the temple building submission along with the total height of the ancillary building as shown on page A201 of its respective submission, adhere to the 30 foot building height limit set for the rural residential zone that those structures are located in.”

The board also adopted Moss’ wording of the “quality of life” finding, which now reads, “from both verbal and written public testimony, the ability to attend a temple locally will significantly improve the quality of life for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in addition to eliminating the necessity for travel for members of the church. Additional shopping, dining and lodging dollars will be invested in local businesses by temple attendees, contributing to Cody’s local economy.

“The completed and operational temple will not produce noise with the exception of associated traffic, which through public testimony will be limited due to scheduled appointments and to room capacities of less than 40 seats.”

Borer made a motion to amend the findings of the CUP, which passed after White, Rowley, Borer and Richard voted in favor. Moss and Schein voted against.

Board members explain their votes

Moss said the city planner is more “equipped” to make changes to the findings of fact than the board. He also restated his opinion that the Cody Master Plan is a guide and not law.

“The building does meet our [City] code,” he said. “The master plan doesn’t have any legal standing.”

Rowley, however, said his concerns over height interpretation remained.

“The structure will be welded together,” he said. “I just can’t square with the fact that if it is welded all together as one structure that somehow everything above a certain line doesn’t count [towards building height].”

Moss brought up RLUIPA (The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000).

“RLUIPA prohibits the implementation of any land use regulation that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a personal or religious assembly or institution except if justified by compelling governmental interest,” Moss said. “The steeple and lighting have a symbolic meaning for the church.”

“In addition, RLUIPA also states when there is a conflict between RLUIPA and the zoning code .... RLUIPA takes precedence.”

Richard agreed, saying denying a CUP or a site plan “could have serious consequences,” but he also expressed concern of how “significantly different” the temple is “compared to the neighborhood” where it is proposed to be constructed.

This story was published on July 27, 2023.