Cody City Planner: 101-Foot Steeple Doesn't Violate Limit

Cody City Planner: 101-Foot Steeple Doesn’t Violate 30-Foot Limit

Written by on June 14, 2023

For weeks now, questions, theories, speculation, and conjecture has been swirling around Cody and Park County concerning the announcement of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saint’s proposal of building a temple on Skyline Drive on a piece of property previously owned by Glenn Nielson.  What impact would an almost 10,000 square foot structure on a piece of land that is more rural than residential, have on the neighborhood, and Cody overall, has been vigorously discussed and debated on social media sites, around office watercoolers, and in restaurants and bars along Sheridan Avenue.

But does the “proposed” moniker on this controversial project need to be changed to “done deal?”

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 15, the Cody Planning, Zoning, and Adjustment Board will hold a public hearing at the Cody Auditorium. It will be the first public meeting on an issue everyone in Cody is discussing – whether or not the City should allow the construction of the Cody, Wyoming temple.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is seeking a Special Use Permit to build the 9,950-square-foot structure on nearly five acres of land on Skyline Drive, currently zoned as residential. The Church also seeks a height exemption for the temple’s 101-foot tall steeple – the current city variance limits buildings to a height of 30 feet.

In anticipation of the hearing, many Cody residents are preparing statements while others prepare petitions. As of June 14, there are two petitions circulating through the community – one in full support of the Cody Temple and another trying to prevent its construction at the intended location on Skyline Drive (hoping it will be relocated elsewhere in Cody.)

Now, an important official with the City of Cody has made a decision about the variances asked by the Church to build the temple.  The decision is likely to stir up emotions on both sides of the debate.

Cody City Planner Todd Stowell said the height exemption for the 101-foot steeple won’t be a problem – because the structure itself is within the height variance.

Under The Cody Master Plan (or CMP) the “building height” is defined as the vertical distance between the average finished grade and either the highest point of the coping of a flat roof, the deck line of a mansard roof, or the height of a point midway between the eaves of the main roof and the highest ridge line of a secondary roof.

From Stowell’s perspective, the steeple may be extremely tall, but the rest of the temple’s structure is between 25 and 26 feet tall, under the city’s 30-foot maximum height. The steeple – which rises 77 feet above the roof – is not part of the roof and will not have any day use. So technically, the variance might not be necessary.

Stowell cites the bell tower at Cody Middle School as an existing structure within the city’s 30-foot height maximum, while one part of the architecture rises above 30 feet.

In the Staff Report for the Cody, WY Temple document, Stowell relates that he is a member of the LDS church, but that hasn’t informed or directed his decisions on the variances of the project.  “As a strict rule, I Todd Stowell, avoid writing any portions of staff reports in the ‘first person’ point of view, as doing so ties me personally to the information provided, and the objective nature of my communications can be perceived as compromised if I misstep in any way. However, in this instance I believe it is the only way I can demonstrate the thought processes I have gone through to develop my recommendations on this project from the perspective of the City Planner, how those perspectives are based on laws and on precedents set by the Board, and that the information is not biased by my personal affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I have been instructed by the City attorney to analyze the applications as I would normally do, for reasons that will later be revealed as needed.”

Cody Middle School exterior

Opponents of the proposed Cody temple on Skyline Drive are taking the code at face value: 30 feet means 30 feet. Period.

A member of the group Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods says, “The tortured and convoluted interpretation of height rules defies reason. People know the plain reading of the rules is what they say. 30 feet is 30 feet. If the tower appears on the plans, it’s part of the height subject to the rules. If the tower isn’t considered in the height rules, then the tower should not be built. Simple as that.”

Stowell also commented on another concern raised by groups including Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods. LDS temples tend to be brightly and perpetually lit at night “to draw the whole earth unto them as a reminder of God and His ever-available light and love.” Residents have seen the Billings temple at night, raising their concerns that new temple will contribute to light pollution, which is forbidden in the CMP, illuminating the dark sky Cody has deliberately preserved.

Haskell Architecture and Engineering – the contractor for the Cody Wyoming temple – included a memo on the exterior lighting of the temple in documents submitted to the City of Cody.

According to the memo, the lighting will be dimmed to 50% after staff and visitors leave for the night and will be turned off completely, aside from the parking lot, after custodians leave for the evening. Any overnight lights will be comparable to other structures in town.

The website FAIR (Faithful Answers, Informed Response) says all LDS temples “comply with all local requirements and restrictions on night-time lighting.”

Another concern from residents along Skyline Drive is the amount of traffic that will be using the residential road to access the parking lot to the temple.  In the report from the City of Cody, this can be resolved by a by-pass that would snake down from the Skyline Drive/Aspen Intersection down to Yellowstone Avenue near Cody Medical.

“The City planner’s dream is to largely resolve the traffic situation with South fork Hill and Canyon Avenue by obtaining enough community support to pass a “penny sales tax” to fund the design and construction of a neighborhood connector street running between Skyline Drive and Yellowstone Avenue, as depicted on the street plan on page 56 of the Cody master plan. The benefit is regional in scope, so the cost thereof should be as regional as possible as well. By utilizing a “penny sales tax” as the method of funding, approximately 30% of the cost would be funded by visitors from outside of the City.”

To resolve the road and access issue it would come down to two things that would have to get the public’s approval: 1. How much of an impact would more traffic on Skyline Drive have on the surrounding community? And 2. Would the public support a 1% sales tax increase for Park County residents to build a road from Yellowstone Avenue to Skyline Drive to access the temple?

Several documents related to the Cody Wyoming Temple are publicly available on the City of Cody website.

Park County residents are encouraged to attend the public meeting hosted by the City of Cody at 6PM at the Cody Auditorium on Beck Avenue on Thursday night.

[There are no radio stations in the database]