• Permit remains on hold pending potential discussions
By CJ Baker
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
POWELL — The fight over The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ new Cody temple is headed to the courts. On Monday, a group of 11 couples and individuals who live near the site sued the City of Cody’s Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board, asking a judge to overrule the board and reverse its approval of the temple plans.
Known collectively as “Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods,” the neighbors are reiterating their arguments that the 9,950 square foot temple does not belong in their residential area west of the Olive Glenn Golf Course.
Monday’s appeal specifically challenges the board’s approval of a conditional use permit for the project; the group said it will soon file a second suit challenging the temple’s site plan.
In a statement posted to Facebook, members of Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods described themselves as being a part of “the last line of defense against an LDS corporation that has threatened and intimidated our community, the P&Z Board, and city officials, forcing a temple build in a rural residential zoned area at a height that exceeds the Cody Building Code by more than three times.”
The group said it went to court “only as a last resort” and noted the church filed two legal challenges of its own.
Following months of intense public debates and complicated deliberations, the board gave its last approval to the project on Aug. 8. The green light came with a church compromise to shut off the facility’s lighting from roughly 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
However, an offer to reduce the main tower’s height from 101 to 85 feet was scrapped when the board’s swing vote felt the church was bullying the members into accepting the deal.
While the entire process has been enveloped in contention, the tower’s height has proven to be the most controversial.
The 4.69-acre parcel off Skyline Drive sits within a Rural Residential Zoning District, where buildings are generally limited to 30 feet. City Planner Todd Stowell and other staff said the tower isn’t subject to that limit, but a majority of the board members disagreed, contributing to a messy review process.
Though city staff and the church say the board indirectly approved the 101-foot height, there are differing interpretations, with the neighbors contending the church remains limited to 30 feet.
Either way, the church can’t begin construction until it receives a building permit from city staff — and Cody Mayor Matt Hall has held up that permit over the past week and a half.
“We’re trying to sit down and work with the church on some issues,” City Administrator Barry Cook said Wednesday, specifically mentioning the height of the steeple.
Cook said the city wants to arrange a meeting between church officials and perhaps three members of the city council.
Meanwhile, Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods has asked the mayor to pause the permit while its appeals play out in Park County District Court.
In Monday’s petition, the neighbors assert that the conditional use permit that allows the church to build at the site violated the city’s ordinances and master plan, was “unsupported by substantial evidence” and was “arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.”
The group’s attorneys at Wendtland & Wendtland of Sheridan say the permit illegally authorized the following:
- incorrect specifications to building height allowances/ limitations;
- incorrect enforcement or lack of proper enforcement of scale or density compatibility mandates;
- incorrect and/or inadequate protections to persons, property and the general welfare by reasons of excessive production of traffic, glare, light and damage to the viewshed; and
- risks to the public health, welfare and safety.
They further charge that the board failed to observe “notice(s) and procedure(s) required by law” and created “one or more instances of a nuisance” by issuing the permit.
The group also appears to take aim at Stowell, who is a member of the church.
Monday’s petition charges that the permit “is the product of a tainted administrative decision-making process involving one or more city personnel who acted with a known conflict of interest and/or bias in a manner that unduly prejudiced the administrative decision-making process.”
Beyond the Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods association, the plaintiffs include Terry and Diana Skinner, Dan and Konnie Haman, Patrick and Lynn Pitet, Sheila and Doug Peterson, Becky Stern, Siri and Tom Blake, Carla Egelhoff, Peggy Rohrbach, Brandi and Ty Nelson, Sarah McClure, and Chuck and Celeste Radtke.
In contrast to the neighbors’ criticisms, multiple church members expressed gratitude for the city’s work on the project at an Aug. 15 Cody City Council meeting. They also expressed hope that both the project and community can move forward.
“We are very anxious now that the planning and zoning [board] has made their decision,” said Jimmie Edwards, second counselor in the Cody Wyoming Stake Presidency. “We look forward to the signing of the permits so that the temple can get underway, but also so that we can start progressing on … healing relationships that have been damaged.”
“We believe that we can do that,” Edwards said.
Cook, the administrator, said Wednesday that he’s hoping a meeting between council members and church officials can be set up soon.