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Group asks to intervene in LDS lawsuit

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CODY — The Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods Group, which opposes constructing a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple off Skyline Drive, has asked to “intervene” in the church’s lawsuit to ensure its interests will be represented throughout the proceedings.

On July 24, a motion to intervene was filed, which is typically filed by a third party who was not named in an existing civil case, but who has a personal stake in the outcome of said case.

The motion was filed by the group’s attorney, Debra Wendtland of Sheridan.

“This case is an unlawful appeal ... that is unsupported by required findings of fact and conclusions of law,” she wrote in the motion.

The Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods Group is “legally entitled to intervene in this unlawful appeal to protect their substantial, immediate and pecuniary interests that, but for their admission, such interests will be unrepresented in this matter,” the motion read.

Wendtland said the Preserve our Cody Neighborhoods Group had the right to intervene in the case because they are “landowners that either adjoin or live near the site proposed” for the temple and because they have “actively opposed” the temple application out of concerns it will create “specific harms to them.”

Those “specific harms” include, according to Wendtland, loss of the viewshed, increased traffic, increased light, increased density, stormwater runoff and “numerous violations” of the Cody City Municipal Code, the motion said.

Wendtland further said the LDS’ suit against the city of Cody’s Planning and Zoning board was “erroneously attempting to appeal” a P&Z decision “that is not final and therefore not yet appealable.”

The LDS Church sued the city planning and zoning board on a voting technicality, arguing that when the board voted 3-2 in favor of the site plan at its June 15 meeting, the site plan passed rather than failed.

Board chair Carson Rowley said approval of the site plan failed because a majority of the seven member board did not vote in favor of it. The board upheld that determination at its July 25 special meeting.

“Only final decisions of the [P&Z Board] are appealable” to Park County District Court, Wendtland said in the motion.

“Even if [the church’s] argument is correct that a vote in favor of the temple site plan required only a majority of the [P&Z] members present, such determination is still not a final, appealable decision,” the motion said. “By law, the site plan cannot stand alone to formally and finally authorize construction of the proposed temple. More must be done.”

In her motion, Wendtland went on to say that the existing parties of the lawsuit — the LDS church represented by Kendal Hoopes, City Attorney Scott Kolpitcke; and the P&Z board — will not “adequately” represent the Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods Group.

She said not allowing the group to participate in the lawsuit could “impair or impede” their “ability to protect their respective interests.”

In her conclusion, Wendtland wrote, “As adjoining landowners and landowners that live near the proposed temple site ... the movants are proper parties to intervene as of right.

“They have tirelessly identified, analyzed and argued at every opportunity afforded them the list of damages to them if the proposed temple is built.”

Wendtland said the Wyoming Supreme Court has “routinely” ruled that adjoining landowners and those that live near “have standing to challenge agency action specific to zoning decisions and there are intervening parties of right.”

Wendtland requested a hearing be scheduled in District Court so a ruling on the motion could be made. As of July 27, a hearing had not yet been scheduled.

The case will now be heard by retired Judge John R. Perry of Buffalo.

It was initially assigned to Park County District Court Judge Bill Simpson, but due to a July 21 order by Chief Justice Kate M. Fox of the Wyoming Supreme Court, the case was assigned to Perry, according to court documents.

This story was published on August 1, 2023. 

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