Casper Mayor Bruce Knell said he didn’t receive a single negative comment about a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple proposed in his city in 2021. Same for Casper City Planner Craig Collins.
In many ways, comparing the approval process for a controversial Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple in Cody with months of local opposition to what’s now nearing completion in Casper is a tale of two Wyoming temples.
Casper Gives The Green Light
Knell and Collins said the only feedback they received about the 10,000-square-foot temple prior to its construction on the west side of Casper was positive.
“On the contrary, a lot of people were interested in that,” Collins said when asked if there was any opposition to the LDS temple being built there. “They suggested it would be good for the west side businesses, help get some hotels in and get more people to visit that area.”
This a stark contrast to what has happened in Cody, where public officials have been bombarded with hundreds of emails and messages about the project over the last few months. There have been threats of lawsuits on both sides and the church has made two court filings to answer the opposition.
In The Zone
Casper zoning laws allow city staff to make administrative decisions on all building site plans 20,000 square feet or less in size. This is why the Casper Wyoming Temple never received Planning and Zoning Commission or City Council consideration.
That alone is an immediate contrast between the Casper and Cody temples, where in Cody, the temple must receive Planning and Zoning Board approval.
In Cody, a monthslong debate has raged over the proposed temple in the town of roughly 10,000 people, with many expressing both strong support and opposition to the project.
The Cody Planning and Zoning Board has spent the summer slowly trudging through its consideration of the 9,950-square-foot temple. On Tuesday, it approved a site plan for the project, but excluded the 77-foot spire extending from the top of the structure, one of the most contested features of the building.
There are a number of important comparisons between the temples.
The two structures are similar in size and extremely similar in design. They both have a large tower extending from the main building.
The Casper temple is located in a somewhat open, mixed-use commercial and residential area. There is a school across the street on one side of the temple property and a commercial business on the other. Some residents in the area will be able to see the temple from their homes, but none come close to qualifying as an adjoining property.
The Cody temple is planned for a more dense, rural-residential neighborhood with homes located on either side of the 4.69-acre parcel. The Casper temple is located on a 9.5-acre site.
Knell said the difference between the locations may be why they have been received differently by their communities.
“If it had been put in a more residential area, I’m quite certain we’d be dealing with the same thing (as Cody),” he said. “The fact that they put it in an area that already receives high traffic is probably why it didn’t receive any opposition.”
Neighbors of the proposed Cody temple have cited the height of the steeple, the light that would emanate from the building, and the traffic caused by those visiting it as their biggest concerns about the project.
A recently finished temple in Helena, Montana, is located in another mixed commercial and residential area that falls somewhere between the density level of the Casper and Cody locations. A temple in Billings, Montana, is in a location more similarly resembling the density of Casper.
Beth Worthen, Casper Stake communications director, said there are 5,600 members of the church in the Casper area. In the Big Horn Basin the Cody Wyoming Temple would primarily serve, there are about 10,000 members of the church.
“There’s a lot of excitement for the temple,” she said. “There’s a lot of excitement in the region for people to have a nearby temple for people to go to as well.”
Worthen said the addition of a temple to her community is significant for members of her church who now have to travel to Fort Collins, Colorado, to reach the nearest temple, and had to drive more than four hours to the temple in Billings in the past. The nearest temple to Cody is the Billings temple, about an hour and 50 minutes away.
Knell couldn’t say why the temple has been received more positively in his community than in Cody. He’s even received calls from Cody residents frustrated about the temple project in their city.
“I received emails about the temple in Cody and had to remind them I’m the mayor of Casper,” Knell said.
Knell mentioned how his city has passed anti-discrimination ordinances and is one of the more culturally diverse cities in the state.
“Casper is a very diverse, welcoming place,” he said. “We have a very welcoming community.”
But like any city, Casper has also faced its share of challenges. An arsonist lit fire to an abortion clinic that was under construction there in 2022. A state legislator from Casper advocated boycotting businesses in the city that sponsored a recent pride event this summer.
Many opponents of the Cody Wyoming Temple have said they don’t oppose the church having a temple in their community, just not where it’s planned.
Others like religious author and columnist Jana Riess, a member of the church, have criticized the way the church has handled the Cody temple project.
Fighting For Benefits
The church has filed two court petitions in Park County District Court challenging past decisions made by the Planning and Zoning board about the temple. It also rescinded a previous application it had submitted allowing the temple to exceed height limits for the respective zoning district it is proposed to be built in.
Cody resident Luke Hopkin, also a member of the church, said temples are gifts to the communities they are in because of “the beauty of the temple grounds.” Temples are considered particularly sacred sites within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints religion and only certain members of the church are allowed inside of them.
Hopkin wouldn’t speculate as to why the Cody temple has been received negatively by some in his city.
“Some things that these two temples have in common are that thousands of members in the respective areas are thrilled to have the temples in Cody and Casper,” he said. “Hundreds of young men and young women are excited to be able to participate in temple ordinances and provide service there.”
Not The First Controversial Temple
The Cody Wyoming Temple is far from the first to face opposition from a surrounding community.
A proposed 200-foot temple in Utah has faced opposition this year for potential light pollution it may cause in a rural-residential area similar to where the Cody temple will be built.
There also was some opposition to the Billings Montana Temple when it was built in 1999.
The church has shown a willingness to compromise on temple construction. In 2017, it agreed to replace a proposed 95-foot steeple for a temple in Tucson with a golden dome to comply with local zoning ordinances.
Church officials even recently extended an olive branch for the Cody temple, offering to lower the height of the temple steeple so that the building would be around 85 feet tall instead of the proposed 101 feet. This compromise was rejected Tuesday.
Still, board member Scott Richard sent a plea out to the public to understand the pressure board members are facing and move forward in a less adversarial way. The chairman of the Planning and Zoning board mentioned how he had received 150 emails about the temple in the week leading up to the meeting.
“The public pressure to approve or deny this has been overwhelming on this board,” Richard said about the monthslong debate over the temple. “We hear everybody’s voice. We’re doing the best of our ability to look at the ordinances which are the law we’re supposed to abide by.”
The Casper Wyoming Temple is now nearing completion, with its steeple in place and the surrounding grounds starting to receive finishing touches.
Later this year, the temple will open to members of the church, an event that will likely receive little attention from those outside the religion. In Cody, a finished temple is much less certain.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.