Although there remain unresolved lawsuits over the construction of a Latter-day Saint temple in Cody, the Wyoming city has issued a building permit for the structure after the Utah-based church threatened to file another legal action.
The city’s planning and zoning board approved a site plan for the temple and then later rescinded its approval in July, prompting attorneys for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to sue in a Wyoming district court, arguing that the panel violated its own rules.
The board subsequently approved the site plan again, with some restrictions.
In August, a grassroots group opposed to the construction plan of the temple went to court to try to block it. 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.
Cody Mayor Matt Hall, meanwhile, ordered the city’s Community Development Department to withhold a building permit for the temple — a demand he has now lifted because, he said, the church threatened to file a federal suit.
Although the city “dedicated its efforts toward easing tensions and fostering collaboration among these groups to seek a resolution,” he said in a statement, “… the LDS Church representatives from Salt Lake City expressed that any further delay in the permit issuance would result in construction setbacks and significant financial losses, necessitating them to take legal action in federal court to recover damages and legal expenses.”
“We are grateful to have a building permit,” a church spokesperson said Monday. The faith’s federal lawsuit would have been separate from the ongoing legal actions in Wyoming’s state court.
It remains unclear when or if the construction of the temple will take place. The mayor is stepping back and leaving that in the hands of the courts.
“We believe it is prudent,” Hall said in the statement, “to allow the district court to decide the future of this project through the appeals that have been filed.”
He said the city has no intention of getting in the middle of the legal battle between the church and the neighborhood group that opposes the temple plan.
“Cody has always been committed to fiscal responsibility and safeguarding the interests of our residents,” he said. “Engaging in a protracted legal battle does not align with our values, and we have a responsibility to be prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
In his statement, Hall acknowledged he did not have the authority to stop the building permit from being issued because, according to city code, the City Council “does not have the authority to overturn decisions by the planning and zoning board to approve a conditional use permit or site plan.”
In early August, the Cody planning, zoning and adjustment board OK’d plans for the nearly 10,000-square-foot temple on a 4.69-acre site in a Cody neighborhood, at the same time imposing restrictions on how bright the outdoor lighting on the structure and in the parking lot could be, and what hours the lights could be shining.
The other major point of contention is the height of the temple’s steeple. Zoning rules for the area where the temple would be built restrict structures to no more than 30 feet in height. The building itself would be 25 feet to 26 feet tall, but the steeple would soar to 101 feet, according to the original plans. At one point, the church proposed shortening that to 85 feet, but the neighborhood group did not find that acceptable.
The mayor did offer to act as a go-between between the church and the neighborhood group: “Cody remains open to facilitating discussions between both parties to reach a solution that respects the rights of all involved.”
Wyoming is currently home to one operating Latter-day Saint temple, in Star Valley. Beside the one in Cody, a temple is also planned in Casper.
Latter-day Saints view a temple as a House of the Lord, a place where the faithful participate in their religion’s highest ordinances, including eternal marriages.