‘David’ fights back against ‘Goliath’ as residents go to court to stop LDS temple in Wyoming

Grassroots group says the Utah-based faith has “threatened and intimidated our community.”

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) This artist's rendering shows the temple that's planned for Cody, Wyo.

A grassroots group opposed to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building a temple in a Cody, Wyo., neighborhood has gone to court in an attempt to stop construction.

Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods filed the petition in district court as a “last line of defense against an LDS corporation that has threatened and intimidated our community” by going to court, according to a post on its Facebook page.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) This is the spot in Cody, Wyo., where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wants to build a temple.

The group is asking the court to review a conditional use permit for the nearly 10,000-square-foot temple on a 4.69-acre site issued by the city’s planning and zoning board. The group also plans to file another appeal to the city over the decision to approve the temple site plan.

It’s the latest development in an ongoing dispute over the structure. The Cody planning and zoning board approved, then withdrew its approval and then reapproved the plan. The Utah-based faith has itself gone to court to contest the zoning board’s actions.

Although the conditional use permit cleared without height restrictions, Cody Mayor Matt Hall ordered the city to withhold a building permit, even though he acknowledged he may not have the authority to do so. No permit has been issued, and, in its Facebook post, the Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods group encourages city officials “to continue to pause the building permit and allow this process to be settled in district court.”

A major point of contention is the plan for a steeple that would soar more than 100 feet high in a neighborhood that is zoned residential and where structures are not to exceed a height of 30 feet. The building itself would be 25 to 26 feet tall, but the addition of a 77-foot steeple would take that to more than 100 feet.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) This map shows where in Cody, Wyo., The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plans to build a temple.

At one point, the church proposed lowering the height of the steeple to 85 feet, and it’s unclear whether that is now the plan. The church did not immediately reply to a request for comment Friday on the neighborhood group’s legal action.

(Elliot Ross | The New York Times) Matt Hall, the mayor of Cody, Wyo., stands with a statue of a horse at the Big Bear Motel in Cody on Jan. 28, 2020.

In an appearance on KTVQ (a television station in Billings, Mont.), group spokesperson Terry Skinner said, “We were reluctant to file the appeal, or the petition for review, against the city. But we felt that we didn’t have any recourse.”

On Facebook, the group — which says it speaks for “the 962 petition signers, 500+ Facebook subscribers, and 1,800+ Cody residents who participated and want the Cody Master Plan” — says it is not opposed to construction of the temple, but wants it built somewhere else in the city. “As we have stated many times before, if our LDS neighbors want a temple, we believe they should have one, but it should follow the Cody City zoning and building codes. We go into this battle understanding that it’s a ‘David vs. Goliath’ scenario. Still, our backs are against the wall, leaving little choice but to join the LDS in seeking legal review of the height variances, P&Z Board actions, and applicable laws designed to protect neighborhoods.”

The posting goes on to solicit funds to pay for the legal action.

Latter-day Saints view a temple as a House of the Lord, a place where the faithful participate in their religion’s highest rites, including eternal marriage.