Mormon Church Continues To Fight In Court For Temple In Cody

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has filed a second petition in Park County District Court for a controversial temple it wants to build in Cody.

LW
Leo Wolfson

August 03, 20235 min read

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple in Star Valley, Wyoming. The church is in a legal tug-of-war to build a temple in Cody.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple in Star Valley, Wyoming. The church is in a legal tug-of-war to build a temple in Cody. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to petition Wyoming courts to help with its effort to build a temple in Cody.

Late last week, the church filed its second petition in as many weeks challenging the Cody Planning and Zoning board for not approving its plan to build a 101-foot-tall temple.

Temple Height

The petition for review filed late last week in Park County District Court asks the court to determine if the temple’s proposed height of 101 feet complies with the city’s zoning rules.

City code only permits a structure 30 feet high to be built in the rural residential zone it would be in, but the church and City Planner Todd Stowell have argued that the temple’s 77-foot steeple should not count toward the maximum building height as part of the building’s roof. Without the steeple, it’s less than 30 feet.

Shortly before to the latest Planning and Zoning Board meeting on the temple last week, the church rescinded its special exemption request to exceed the height requirement. At that meeting, a determination was made confirming that city code stipulates a building’s height in the rural residential zone cannot exceed 30 feet. 

Reconsiderations

The church also asks the court to determine if the Planning and Zoning board had the right at a meeting June 27 to reconsider and modify a commercial use permit that had already been approved for the temple.

It also questions whether the board had the right to reconsider and table the church’s commercial site plan for this project at this June 27 meeting. Gaining approval for the site plan on the 4.69-acre parcel overlooking Cody is a critical part of the approval process for the temple, as it will help give basic approval to build it and an ancillary building.

Request To Intervene

The church filed an earlier petition for judicial review July 17 asking the court to decide if the board’s June 15 rejection of the site plan was legal.

Last week, Protect Our Cody Neighborhoods, a group of 15 neighboring residents opposing the temple project in its current location, filed a motion to intervene in this first petition to ensure its interests are represented throughout the proceedings.

“We feel it’s necessary to intervene in this lawsuit to adequately protect our position that may not have been readily known by the court of the applicant,” Terry Skinner, a member of Protect Our Neighborhoods, told Cowboy State Daily.

Skinner said his organization also is filing a motion to intervene on the second petition filed last week. He believes members of the church are trying to bully city staff through court filings to get their way.

In the request to intervene, Protect Our Cody Neighborhoods said the church can’t appeal a decision that hasn’t been officially finalized.

It also says it should be allowed to intervene in the case as its members will be directly impacted by the temple and are “situated” in a way that “may impede ability to protect their respective interests.” The group claims that the Wyoming Supreme Court has established a precedent that neighboring residents can challenge agency decisions.

Skinner said they are not adequately represented by the city in the matter.

“It’s important we have that voice out there,” he said. “We don’t feel we have been adequately represented.”

Protect Our Neighborhoods has cited a number of concerns it has with the temple’s proposed location, including the viewshed, lighting and traffic. Skinner questions that the road the temple will be built on is wide enough to handle the amount of traffic it will attract. If the street is widened, he believes the church should have to pay for it.

The intervenors have also requested a court hearing to hear their request to participate in the case, an effort the church has opposed. There was no response to this request from the court as of Wednesday.

Moving Forward

It’s unclear when the Planning and Zoning board will meet next on the temple and if any tangible progress can be expected on the temple decision. At its last meeting July 25, the board repeatedly deadlocked on votes about the temple, but did pass a new conditional use permit. 

Both court petitions were transferred to retired Buffalo judge John Perry after originally being assigned to Park County Judge Bill Simpson. The decision was finalized by Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Kate Fox. No explanation was given for the change.

Carla Egelhoff, a member of Protect Our Neighborhoods, said the church’s attorney Kendal Hoopes and their engineers met with two Planning and Zoning board members, Cody Mayor Matt Hall and City Attorney Scott Kolpitcke recently. She said there was also a presentation made by Hoopes regarding the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, a federal law church has argued grants it the right to have its temple approved.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter