By Buzzy Hasrick
Cody Enterprise Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Cody temple approved by planning board

 

August 10, 2023



Compromise reached on lighting, not on height

CODY — The site plan for the proposed Cody temple for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was approved Tuesday by the city’s planning and zoning board – minus “the elephant in the room,” in the words of board member Kim Borer.

The elephant is the height of the structure, about which the board made no decision. The height could be determined by the courts, pending the outcome of two lawsuits filed by LDS against P&Z. Challenges to site-plan decisions bypass city council and are filed in district court.

In one suit, the church said the board erred when it said the proposal complied with the 30-foot height limit in the rural residential zone off Skyline Drive and then reconsidered and reversed that finding. In that suit and the second one, the church argued the temple met the zoning requirement, citing city officials who testified that measurements should not include the tower, which extends 101 feet.

In Tuesday’s action, the board’s approval came after two prior votes on the site plan, one to accept and the other to deny, that ended in ties. On the third and successful vote, chair Carson Rowley proposed the same motion but deleted a condition that the temple be 85 feet tall, not 101 feet as originally proposed.

That was one of three conditions he had suggested.

The others, which passed, dealt with lighting of the grounds – an average of 2.1 lumens, fixtures that include baffles to prevent illumination from leaving the property, and motion-detector systems for lighting outside hours of operations, generally 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. – and the provision that architectural lights be shut off during those six hours except as needed for security of the building.

During the two-hour meeting, several board members mentioned the numerous public comments on the issue they’d received, both pro and con.

“The public pressure has been overwhelming,” said member Scott Richard, who noted that “the issue has divided the community.” He said the board has been doing its best to comply with city ordinances and the Cody Master Plan.

“No matter the outcome, I hope we can all grow together and move past this,” he said.

Richard voted for the final approval of the site plan, along with Borer, Rowley and Matt Moss. Voting nay were Dan Schein and Josh White.

Prior deliberations

Before the votes, Rowley said he had met last week with both the applicant and the opposition, which has formed a Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods group, to discuss concerns with the site plan. He said he felt the applicant had met the burden of proof and offered some concessions – lowering the tower height by 16 feet and shutting off most of the lighting outside open hours.

“We have to get to the end of this today,” he concluded.

However, Schein said, “I cannot and will not be voting in favor of the site plan.”

He cited the board’s June 15 rejection of the city planner’s finding that the tower is not part of the 30-foot height limit in a rural residential zone. When the applicant subsequently withdrew its special exemption request for the 101-foot tower, that meant to him the church didn’t plan to comply.

Then the two initial votes ensued. Richard moved, Moss seconded, to approve the site plan with Rowley’s three conditions. They voted aye, while Schein, Borer and White voted nay. Motion failed.

Schein then moved to reject the site plan, seconded by Richard. If that motion passes, Rowley said, the church might withdraw its offer to lower the tower and turn off the lights. Voting aye were Schein, Borer, and White; nays were Richard, Rowley and Moss.

Borer said she was frustrated because the board had asked both sides to get together and because she wasn’t getting straight answers from the applicant. She’s asked for explanations about a 140-space parking lot for a building that seats 40 at most and for an estimated number of expected visitors.

“I don’t like being bullied at all,” she added, preferring to negotiate a plan that works for everyone.

Further, in prior meetings, Borer has questioned the “elevation” of the structure’s 101-foot height.

Both Carson and Richard said they were concerned about RLUIPA, the federal law to aid religious institutions avoid state regulations of their property through zoning restrictions. But Schein said the applicant wasn’t being treated differently – that there were neither burdensome land regulations nor discrimination.

As to the height, he cited cases in Arizona and California where the church built temples with domes instead of towers, describing those actions as “not unduly burdensome.”

After the meeting, LDS attorney Kendal Hoopes of Sheridan said he will report the board’s action to church officials in Salt Lake City who will determine the next step.

This story was published on August 10, 2023.

 
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