After public opposition, top Latter-day Saint leaders halt high-density housing project near planned Tooele temple

(Rendering courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) This is an artist's rendering of a portion of what had been the planned residential community near the site of the Tooele Valley Temple.

The governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints withdrew Tuesday an approved, but controversial, rezoning request that would have allowed it to build a high-density housing development around its planned Tooele Valley Temple in Erda.

The move came after opponents to the housing development appeared to have gathered enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot to reverse the rezoning, although a one-week period still remained when signatures could be removed by request.

“There is a sincere desire on the part of the church to avoid discord in the community,” wrote the church’s First Presidency, consisting of President Russell M. Nelson, along with counselors Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring.

“We acknowledge the efforts of those who have raised questions and sincere concerns about the Tooele Valley Temple project, including the residential development surrounding the temple,” the statement added.

Regardless of the final outcome of the pending signature-gathering effort, the presidency wrote, “We have determined to withdraw our rezoning request for the residential portion of the temple project.”

It added that it will now work with local officials and community members to determine the next steps to move forward for construction of the temple itself.

“We hope those from all viewpoints on this matter will treat one another with kindness, civility, and Christlike love,” the statement said.

Critics of the housing project worried that it would change the rural feel of Erda, where the temple is planned. Some also feared that lighting from the temple project might affect a long-standing drive-in movie theater across the street.

The church had proposed a walkable residential community of 446 homes surrounding the planned three-story, 70,000-square-foot temple. They would have been on a variety of lot sizes, from half-acre to high-density. The development would have been northwest of the intersection of Erda Way and Highway 36 in Erda.

The community would also have included more than 32 acres of open space and an additional selection of attached housing for residents over age 55, according to officials with the church’s development arm, Suburban Land Reserve.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Legislature’s Government Operations Interim Committee endorsed a bill for Thursday’s special session that would have allowed the rezoning referendum to appear on the Nov. 3 ballot this year — instead of waiting for next year. It would allow any similar referendum to appear on a ballot if all legal requirements had been met in time before ballot printing.

Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, told the committee that the Erda rezoning has “been a divisive issue. If we were to wait for another year, it ties up the land, it ties up the project, the divisiveness continues with neighbor contesting against neighbor.”

He added that all sides wanted to get the issue resolved and supported the bill. “Everyone in the issue wants to resolve this as soon as possible.”