Cody Mayor Matt Hall wants everyone to pump the brakes a little on moving forward with building a proposed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple in his city.
“We’re exhausting all options,” he told Cowboy State Daily about the controversial temple plan that was finally approved last week by the city’s Planning and Zoning board following months of debate and protests.
After city staff had prepared to move ahead with allowing construction to begin, Hall temporarily blocked the building permit for the more than 100-foot-tall building.
The main purpose of the delay is to allow Cody City Council to review the site plan and conditional use permit for the project, Hall said.
“I wanted to have (city) council confer as to what has happened with Planning and Zoning and see where the issue was resting,” he said.
But Hall also said he isn’t sure what action, if any, the council can or will take on the matter, as the temple has already technically been approved when the planning board gave the OK to the church’s site plan and conditional use permit.
“As far as the decisions P&Z has made with the site plan and conditional Use Permit, we can’t revert those back. In effect, the city has made those decisions.”
Hall confirmed the temple was the topic of discussion for a council executive session Tuesday.
Hall said there’s significant ambiguity about what exactly the Planning and Zoning board passed, specifically on the topic of the temple’s height, which has been the most contentious aspect of the project.
The board never came to a final determination of the issue of height, which some on P&z saw as giving it a green light, while others say it was a rejection. City staff decided to allow the project to move forward because it hadn’t specifically been denied.
Planning and Zoning Board Chair Carson Rowley told Cowboy State Daily last week he saw the approval as accepting the height, while his fellow board member Kim Borer saw it as a rejection. Both the city attorney and city planner also say it was an affirmative decision.
The Public Speaks
More than 15 opponents and supporters of the project spoke to the council Tuesday.
Noma Walton, a member of the church who lives near where the proposed temple will be built, said she’s looking forward to having it there.
“I’m very in favor of this temple and very excited about it,” she said. “To me, it’s one of the most exciting things that has the potential to happen in the 26 years I’ve lived in Cody.”
An experienced temple-goer, Walton said these types of facilities are beautiful, quiet and peaceful.
Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods, a group opposed to the proposed temple location, said in a letter sent to Hall and council members that the church should never have been allowed to work around height scrutiny by pulling its special exemption permit on the project.
It also says city staff changed its stance on the special requirement during the approval process.
The group said the city should not approve any building permits for the temple while two lawsuits challenging the project are pending and “must not issue permits pursuant to an application whose legal status is undetermined.”
The group believes it will win on appeal if it challenges the case in court.
Hall said it’s too early to say if the temple discussion will be discussed by the council in a public setting again.
‘Quite The Summer’
The temple debate has roiled Cody over the summer during five well-attended and emotionally charged public meetings.
“It’s certainly given people something to talk about,” Hall said. “It distracts from a lot of the other things we have going on.”
Hall expressed a little disappointment that city and county budget meetings were barely attended by the public, a sharp contrast from the hundreds of people who came out for the temple hearings.
Luke Hopkin, a member of the church, said these discussions weighed heavily on him and all of those who have taken an interest in the project.
“It’s been a lot. It’s been a lot of personal time on folks, and a lot of time away from family figuring things out,” he said.
“One thing we can all agree on is this has been quite the summer,” Walton said, adding she was encouraged to recently have had a friendly conversation with someone who opposes the temple.
“That’s how Cody is,” she said.
Hall has a slightly more pessimistic perspective. Although he said it’s been “exciting” for many people in town, he also believes some people have taken advantage of the debate to fuel divisiveness.
“That will take a little time to overcome,” he said. “We’ll have to build some of those bridges back.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.