Division and Disappointment: Future of Cody’s LDS Temple Still Unknown | Big Horn Basin Media

Division and Disappointment: Future of Cody’s LDS Temple Still Unknown

Written by on July 26, 2023

The fate of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints proposed temple is still unknown after Cody’s Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board’s Special Meeting Tuesday night as the Board continued to be completely divided on the Church’s proposed Site Plan.

Prior to the meeting starting, the Church also withdrew their application for a special exemption on the steeple.

“I was actually pretty disappointed to see the [steeple’s] special exemption withdrawn,” said Board Chairman, Carson Rowley. “We are looking at these things separately [steeple and lighting], but they do affect one another.”

During the first meeting on June 15, the Board did approve a Conditional Use Permit, but then at the June 27 meeting, the board rescinded that decision. At Tuesday’s Special Meeting, the Board did approved the Conditional Use Permit again, along with updating verbiage on the “Findings of Fact” in the permit.

The most notable change to the Findings was stipulation over the maximum building height in rural residential zones, which caused a deep debate between Rowley, and fellow Board member, Dr. Matt Moss.

City Planner, Todd Stowell determined that the steeple would not count towards the building height because the steeple and building roof are not attached, but the Board rejected that determination. The proposed Cody temple is one of two currently being developed, with the other located in Casper. The construction of that temple is currently underway.

The LDS Temple in Casper, Wyoming that is currently under construction. (Photo by Jessi Entel)

“I also have been down to Casper to look at the temple there, which from testimony from the applicant, we’ve heard that it is going to be very similar to the Cody temple here,” said Rowley. “I see the structure is all welded together from the floor, I mean, it is partially still under construction, so up into the tower part.”

Rowley continued, “And I just can’t […] square with the fact that if it is welded all together as one structure, that somehow everything above a certain line doesn’t count.”

The steeple is not the only important aspect of opposition. The temple’s lighting has been a concern of the Board, along with citizens of Cody.

In leu of the Church rescinding their application for exemption of the steeple, the Board was unable to come to a decision about the lighting as one of the main concerns is the lighting on the steeple.

“We’re in a stalled out situation, they’re for sure,” said Rowley. “ I do not have the stomach to continue this application process, these public meetings about this particular item. I think that we need to make a decision.”

Despite the plea, the Board was unable to make a decision outside of agreeing to table the Site Plan for the project.

Temple project supporter, Dr. Matt Moss addressed with the Board the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. Referred to as RLUIPA, it protects houses of worship from discrimination in laws pertaining to city zoning.

“Steeples and lighting have a symbolic meaning for the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints,” said Moss. “In addition, RLUIPA also states that when there is a conflict between RLUIPA and the zoning code, or how it is applied, RLUIPA as a federal civil rights law, takes precedence.”

“It is a fundamental right to worship in our country how we see fit,” said Board member, Scott Richard. “Again, I go back to my biggest challenge that I have struggled with entirely on this, is not the fact that somebody has the right to worship and build their temple. It’s the fact of how significantly different from what we have seen in that neighborhood when it comes to the height and the light of the tower.”

City of Cody’s Planning, Zoning, and Adjustment Board at the Special Meeting held Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Photo by Jessi Entel)

Board member, Kim Borer also addressed the RLUIPA federal law for her reasoning for treating the Church’s application the same as she would others.

“I think equal is equal. It’s higher than what I would vote for, for any type of building,” said Borer.

Last week, the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints filed a petition with the Park County District Court requesting judicial review over a vote the Board made at the June 15 Special Meeting, but there was no mention of the petition at Tuesday’s special meeting.

The Board has not rejected the temple, but the lack of progress continues to leave the Church and the City of Cody at a standstill.

The City of Cody Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board will meet for their regularly scheduled bi-weekly meetings on August 8, but there has been no announcement yet if the Board will discuss the temple then or when they will have the next Special Meeting.

For questions about Tuesday’s Special Meeting, please contact the City of Cody.

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