Meeteetse monastery project receives initial OK

Posted 9/9/10

The Planning and Zoning Commission also approved plans for a coffee-roasting barn for the Carmelite monks, who currently roast coffee beans and sell them as “Mystic Monk Coffee.”

The monastery and barn would be constructed on about …

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Meeteetse monastery project receives initial OK


A proposed 144,000-square-foot monastery to be built west of Meeteetse received a unanimous recommendation of approval from the Park County Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday night, following hours of public comment.The facility, proposed by the New Mount Carmel Foundation of America, would house up to 40 monks of the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel. The monks currently live in a facility near Clark, but are seeking to expand.

The Planning and Zoning Commission also approved plans for a coffee-roasting barn for the Carmelite monks, who currently roast coffee beans and sell them as “Mystic Monk Coffee.”

The monastery and barn would be constructed on about five acres of the 2,500 acre Grabbert ranch, the foundation will purchase if its plans are approved. The facility would be about 16 miles west of Meeteetse and 14 miles from Wyo. 120, the nearest public road.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Alan Siggins said he struggled with determining whether the large, French Gothic monastery would be compatible with the area's farming and ranching operations, but ultimately came to the conclusion that it was “not incompatible.” He specifically noted nearby oil field development.

The other four members of the commission, Bob Swander, Fred Howard, Marie Fontaine and Nancy Bailey, did not speak as to how they made their decision to vote yes.

The planning and zoning board's decision is only a recommendation — the monastery and coffee roasting barn now must win approval of the Park County Commission.

The monks and their attorneys spent much of Tuesday's hearing outlining how the facility would be used.

Though the monastery would be designed to hold up to 150 people and be open to the public from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Brother Simon Mary stressed that the monks' life is not a public one. Simon Mary, a monk and president of the New Mount Carmel Foundation, said the monks' lives are dedicated to contemplating God and working in an agrarian setting, “which is exactly why we love this ranch,” he said.

Simon Mary said the only large events at the monastery would be rare, such as when priests are ordained. He said that might happen once a year.

“That's the only reason it's built for 150 lay people,” he said.

Father Daniel Mary said a busy day at the current facility near Clark brings eight to 10 cars of visiting members of the public; most visitors for daily Mass live within six miles of the site.

Daniel Mary said a renowned monastery in Oklahoma draws around 10 cars a day, but said he didn't know how many people the planned Meeteetse facility would draw.

“A lot of this is hypothetical,” he said.

Michael LaBazzo, a Cody attorney representing the monks, said there would be one semi-tractor truck delivering coffee beans each month, and one smaller truck load leaving the monastery with roasted coffee each week.

If the coffee operation were to grow, the monks would need a larger roasting barn, and would have to go through the planning and zoning process all over again, LaBazzo said.

No more than 40 monks would live at the monastery.

Earlier plans also called for a convent of nuns at the site, but “that has been completely removed,” said LaBazzo.

LaBazzo said the monastery will have a “book room” where Bibles blessed by the monks, rosary beads and other religious products will be available with donations as payment.

However, “There will not be a gift shop, there will not be coffee sales up at the monastery,” LaBazzo said. He said the plan is to open a retail store selling the monks' coffee and other products, such as mugs, T-shirts and CDs, in Meeteetse or possibly Cody.

During the public hearing, Sheridan attorney Deb Wendtland, representing a group of three area landowners who object to aspects of the monastery's plans, questioned if the monastery will have adequate water and sewage facilities.

Ranch owner Dave Grabbert said there is plenty of water available.

Grabbert said the monks' project has the overwhelming support of adjacent property owners.

“The agitators that are complaining are six miles away or eight miles away down the road,” he said.

However, all of the parties agree that the proposed monastery site is located on top of an easement belonging to Wendtland's clients — meaning an agreement will have to be reached with those landowners if the monastery is to be constructed at that location.

Wendtland said she and attorneys for the monks had a productive meeting earlier this month, but need more time to hammer out a final agreement.

“Give us the time to get it in writing, and you know what you'll give us? Good fences and good neighbors,” said Wendtland, adding, “If you force this through tonight, we won't get there.”

Grabbert said the delay was unnecessary.

“If they haven't had time since October 2009, I don't see how another 60 days will help their difficulties,” said Grabbert.

Like last month's meeting, continued because of the high number of comments, Tuesday's hearing drew a full house of around 50 people, both for and against.

Linda Benson of Meeteetse said residents had questions about why preliminary plans for the facility changed, and said the facility brought no economic advantage.

Resident Karen Little said she didn't understand the objections to the monastery.

“A lot of the residents have had time to ask questions, they have had time to get with the attorneys and the monks and get their questions answered,” Little said. “I don't think more time will ever be be enough time for some people.”

Brother Michael Mary said the monks had met with many Meeteetse business owners personally, explaining the economic impact the monastery would have on them — such as when family members come to visit the monks and stay and eat in Meeteetse.

The monk said the business owners and the Meeteetse Catholic Parish had positive comments about the proposed facility and its prospects for economic development.

Karla Dee Gitlitz, a nearby ranch manager, expressed concern about the monastery increasing public traffic on the private Meeteetse Creek Road which access the site.

“It is a private road, and for that I don't believe that you should allow the public at any time to go up and down that road,” Gitlitz said.

Mary Jane Luther, who lives about 16 miles from the proposed site, said the monastery's plans with a 150-foot tower seemed “flamboyant.”

“It's something that's going to draw people in because, in this area of the country, there's nothing that resembles something like that,” Luther said, saying she would prefer something that better fits in.

Rev. Vernon Clark described the monastery as a “funnel of grace.”

“This will not be a blot on the land but it will indeed be a glory to the land,” he said.

Prior to voting to recommend approval of the monastery, Siggins said he was awed by a comment made at an earlier meeting that the structure could last for 1,000 years.

“We're making some pretty awesome decisions,” Siggins said.