Church says it still wants to reach a compromise on Cody temple

City set to make final decision tonight

Posted 7/25/23

As Cody officials prepare to make a final decision on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ proposed temple, church leaders say they remain willing to strike a compromise on the …

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Church says it still wants to reach a compromise on Cody temple

City set to make final decision tonight


As Cody officials prepare to make a final decision on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ proposed temple, church leaders say they remain willing to strike a compromise on the facility’s design.

“The Church has offered concessions on both building lighting and steeple height and is seeking to work with the city to document those concessions,” Jimmie Edwards, the president of the church’s Cody Wyoming Stake, said in a Friday statement.

The temple’s 101-foot-high steeple and nighttime lighting have been the two top concerns of the City of Cody’s Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board. After hearing those concerns, church officials offered to negotiate a potential compromise and the board signaled unanimous support for exploring the possibility.

“I think there’s some conversations happening” between the city and the church, Cody Mayor Matt Hall said Monday.

The planning board is due to make a final decision today (Tuesday). The members will meet in a closed door executive session at noon then take action during a 6 p.m. meeting at the Cody Auditorium.

The planning board has been considering the controversial project for more than a month, holding hours of meetings attended by hundreds of residents and fielding hundreds of public comments. Opponents want the 9,950 square foot temple to be built elsewhere, saying the facility would not be not in harmony with the residential neighborhood on the west end of the Olive Glenn Golf Course.

Hall organized a July 10 meeting between a church official and neighbors opposing the project, but that didn’t yield much headway. Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods, the group of neighbors who are leading the opposition to the plan, say they “made it clear that the only path for resolution, from our perspective, is moving the LDS Temple to a more appropriate location.” They don’t believe that the site fits within the principles of Cody’s Master Plan or city code.

However, the planning board effectively approved the location at its initial June 15 by issuing a conditional use permit, leaving only the specifics of the project to be determined. 

In his Friday statement, Edwards contended that the church has followed the city’s laws and charged that “the opposition only seems to offer one option, no temple in Cody.”

“We are hopeful we can find a mutually agreeable solution for all of Cody and avoid the division being raised by opponents to the temple,” he said.

Both the neighbors and the church lawyered up weeks ago, but the legal situation escalated last week, when the church filed suit against the planning board. The legal action, which involves a technical question about what constitutes a quorum, asks a judge to rule that the board has already approved the temple’s site plan. However, President Edwards said the suit “does not change our position in any way” and is only intended to preserve the church’s ability to appeal the issue in the future.

“... we intend to set the appeal aside as we seek to find a mutually agreeable resolution with the City,” Edwards said Friday.


Differing facts

At a Wednesday meeting, where board members combed over their written “findings of fact” related to the conditional use permit, it was again clear that only one of the six participating members is supportive of the temple’s height. Further, a majority appeared to express concerns about the lighting.

During an hour-and-a-half-long meeting Wednesday night, the board indicated that it plans to substantially overhaul the findings that City Planner Todd Stowell had put together for the permit. Board Chair Carson Rowley said Stowell included some statements in support of the project that he didn’t agree with or find necessary.

For instance, one sentenced proposed by Stowell — who is a member of the church — said that “the ability to perform temple worship locally is a significant quality of life improvement for those in the community.”

“Not being LDS, I don’t know if I can sign off on that,” Rowley said.

Board member Matt Moss — a church member and the only one to support the church’s design as proposed — said the facility would benefit church members who will no longer have to travel to Billings.

But Borer responded that she, too, wanted the language removed.

“We’re trying to keep religion out of this and then we’re getting it shoved down our throats, so I think it needs to go away,” Borer said of the paragraph. “I mean, I’m sorry, but you worshipping in that temple, when the applicant said, ‘Well, you have to be in good standing [to enter],’ and only 40 people can be there at a time, I don’t understand it.

“I don’t need to understand it; it is what it is,” she added.

After she finished, Rowley apologized to Moss for the conversation getting “heated,” but Moss said the proposed language was not a dealbreaker for him. 

Moss’ primary contention is that the church has complied with all of the applicable laws.


A question of height

For example, he agrees with Stowell and City Building Official Sean Collier that the 30-foot height limit for buildings in the Rural Residential zoning doesn’t apply to the tower. However, a majority of the board has rejected that interpretation.

“I have to say, based on the number of emails that all of us have received, the amount of community outreach and the amount of community objection against this, I feel that is going to produce an undesirable change of what the citizens of this community want,” board member Dan Schein said of the 101-foot tower.

As for what height would be acceptable, Rowley said it’s up to the church to prove what represents the minimum deviation from the 30-foot height limit.

During the board’s discussion of a finding related to the height requirements, City Attorney Scott Kolpticke urged caution.

“I think we really need to examine this one and maybe discuss it in executive session so we can figure out how it’s consistent with what the board has already determined,” Kolpitcke said.

It’s one of the subjects that the board plans to address in today’s (Tuesday’s) executive session.

“It’s the elephant in the room that needs to be figured out,” said Borer.

The board also plans to get advice on what weight they should give to Cody’s Master Plan, which, as Moss noted, can be interpreted in many different ways.

“There’s a lot of things in that master plan that are subjective decisions, not objective decisions,” Rowley agreed, “and so that’s why you have [a process for] some people that have different backgrounds coming together to agree on something.”

While much of the debate over the temple has centered on the location, Moss asked rhetorically if moving to another location would resolve the concerns.

“Where are they going to go?” Moss said of the church. “If you put it on the Powell Highway … you’re going to have the same complaints.

“We’re going to be back here again in three months,” he mused.

“Heaven forbid,” exclaimed one audience member.

If any party disagrees with the decisions made at tonight’s (Tuesday’s) meeting, their next step would be to file an appeal in Park County District Court.