The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is again going to court to challenge the way that the City of Cody’s Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board has handled the church’s planned …
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is again going to court to challenge the way that the City of Cody’s Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board has handled the church’s planned temple.
Last week, the church asked a judge to overrule the board and find that the church does not need special permission to include a 101-foot-high tower in the temple’s design. The church’s petition for judicial review also contends the board was wrong when it reconsidered and modified a conditional use permit for the project while reiterating objections to the way the board has handled the temple’s site plan. Church leaders had already challenged the panel’s decision to table the site plan, arguing the board actually approved it back in June.
Both appeals are pending in Park County District Court before retired Judge John Perry.
Despite contending they have the legal right to build the temple as proposed, church leaders have also said they’re willing to compromise on the design of the 9,950 square foot building.
“We continue to work with the city to seek a mutually agreeable solution,” President Jimmie Edwards, second counselor of the church’s Cody Wyoming Stake, said Tuesday.
Church officials previously said they’ve offered concessions to the city on the tower’s height and on the building’s nighttime lighting, though specific details have not been made public.
The height and lights have been the chief concerns of the city’s planning board, with only one of the six participating members supportive of the church’s submitted design. The board asked city staff to explore a potential compromise back in June, but due to an apparent mismatch of expectations within the city, little progress was made by a July 25 meeting.
Meanwhile, a group of 11 Cody residents and couples who live near the proposed site are continuing to call on the LDS church to find a different location for the temple. The 4.69-acre property sits on Cody’s western edge, abutting a residential neighborhood and the Olive Glenn Golf Course off Skyline Drive.
If the temple is built there, the group Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods says they’ll suffer loss of viewshed, increased traffic, increased light, increased density and stormwater runoff. In a recent court filing, the neighbors also contended that the project would violate Cody City Municipal Code in multiple ways.
Meanwhile, the church is asking a judge to rule that the 101-foot-high tower complies with the city’s zoning ordinances. Buildings in the rural residual zoning district are limited to 30 feet in height, and City Planner Todd Stowell initially asked the church to submit a special exemption request. However, after doing further research, Stowell and City Building Official Sean Collier concluded that the steeple wasn’t subject to the limit, because it’s an open, unoccupied structure being built on top of the temple’s roof.
The planning board explicitly rejected that interpretation at its June 27 meeting on a 4-2 vote. However, they previously accepted Stowell’s proposed findings on the conditional use permit, and those included a finding that the tower’s height complied with the regulations. Because of that vote, Stowell argued that the board actually approved his interpretation of the height, and the church is now making that argument in court. The church also withdrew its request for a special exemption, potentially taking the matter out of the board’s hands.
However, the board has continued to dispute Stowell’s interpretation that the rules don’t apply to the “spire.”
Speaking at a July 25 meeting, Board Chair Carson Rowley said that “I just can’t, again, square with the fact that it is welded all together as one structure, but somehow everything above a certain line is exempt.”
The board also overhauled Stowell’s findings tied to the permit — which is another one of the decisions the church is challenging in its latest court case.
Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods is seeking to participate in the church’s earlier suit, which relates to whether the board approved the site plan in June. Through their lawyers, the group said that the board has yet to take final action on the plan, calling the church’s case “an unlawful appeal of a nonfinal agency [decision].”
The City of Cody had yet to respond to either of the church’s appeals as of press time. Meanwhile, the Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board’s next meeting is set for Tuesday.