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Church Files Lawsuit Against Cody, Wyoming (Zoning/Planning Bd)


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In October 2021 the Church announced the construction of a temple in Cody, Wyoming.  This has created some controversy in that city:

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Recent News Articles

Here is a rendering of the proposed temple:

04.-2022-10-24-Cody-WY-Exterior-1024x811

And the location:

Cody-Wyoming-Temple-01.png.jpeg

 

A bit more context (the temple site is the black square) :

PefTaIQ.jpg

Some neighbors are concerned:

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Terry Skinner is a member of a group called Preserve our Cody Neighborhoods. He lives near the proposed Temple site. Most of the homes in his neighborhood and others nearby are large and expensive.

They have a view of the mountains. Many neighbors are concerned the church will leave the light on 24 hours.

“This is a big issue because people are very possessive of the dark night skies, and it’s very important to them,” Skinner said.

Dianne Kaelberer is another member of the Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods group.

“That is not the location for a bright temple that is going to encroach on neighbors,” she said.

Kaelberer and Skinner said they are not against the temple in Cody, they just think it belongs somewhere else.

“One might ask where can one put a hundred foot tall tower church in an applicable zone where they wouldn’t have to go through a conditional use permit or a special exemption for the height,” Skinner said. “That answer’s pretty easy. It’s a D3 commercial zone.”

That would be anywhere in downtown Cody, or where there are businesses already.

Skinner’s group has passed petitions and posted signs around the neighborhood that say, “Relocate the Temple.”

They’ve also been active at planning and zoning meetings. The first one reportedly lasted six hours, with dozens of people speaking for and against the Temple construction in its current location.

During the second meeting in late June, more than a hundred people came. One was Jessica Wille.

“I am for bringing people to God in any capacity,” Wille said. “And, I’m also for just following the laws. And when I went to these meetings, I realized that everything is in accordance with the laws.”

According to Sean Carter, who works for the City of Cody Building Department, Wille is right.

In the latest Planning and Zoning meeting, he told the board, “If they are constructing the Temple Tower out of what we consider non-combustible construction, it can be unlimited in height.”

That’s because a rooftop structure is exempt from Cody height restrictions. But, some of the board members disagreed with Carter’s definition of the large tower as a rooftop structure.

See also here:

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The news that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints intends to build a temple in Cody was immediately met with waves of emotion in the Cody community. Now, that emotion is manifesting into action – on both sides of the issue.

In October 2021, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints announced its plans to build a third Wyoming temple in Cody. The location of the temple – the west side of Skyline Drive, north of the Cody Canal – was announced earlier this year.

The City of Cody’s Planning and Zoning Board is hosting its next public meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 24.

Church leaders are seeking a conditional use permit for the temple and an auxiliary building, along with a special exemption to exceed the 30-foot height limit in the zoning district (the temple’s tower will be just over 100 feet tall.) The construction will also include a new street to the site with a cul-de-sac turnaround and a parking area.

Usually held at City Hall, this meeting will be held in the Cody Auditorium due to the anticipated attendance. Since this is the first civic meeting regarding the Cody Temple, it will also be the first time two different groups of Cody residents – with different opinions on the Cody Temple – will “confront” each other.

Two Facebook groups have become public forums for these opinions: Cody Wyoming Temple Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods.

Cody Wyoming Temple was created in August 2022, between the announcement of the temple and the announcement of its location. Most of its members are enthusiastic supporters, so the group’s posts answer questions about the Cody Temple, like its purpose and how its construction might affect property values.
...

Meanwhile, Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods formed earlier this week. The opinions of its members are clear in its goal – Relocate the Temple.

No one in this group opposes the construction of the Cody Temple. Instead, they are advocating it be built elsewhere in Cody because of its potential impacts at the intended location.

“We support the temple,” the group’s first post reads, “but not in a Cody neighborhood.”

The group published a statement citing five reasons why “Cody deserves a Temple” in a different location – architectural integrity of Cody’s neighborhoods, protecting night skies, safeguarding traffic corridors, protecting wildlife habitat, and adhering to the City of Cody’s Master Plan.

347409245_1379747249471746_2656554615785

So the stated concerns are:

  1. The "architectural integrity" of the neighborhood;
  2. Light pollution;
  3. Traffic concerns;
  4. Intrusion into wildlife area; and
  5. Height of temple (which substantially contravenes the city's Master Plan).

These are fairly common concerns, and reasonable minds can disagree about them.  I also am glad to see that the folks in Cody who oppose the temple are not doing so on any "religious" grounds.

That's not to say that everything is coming up roses: Vandalized Yard Signs Mock Those Opposed To Controversial Cody Mormon Temple

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Temple-signs-mormon-trash-7.18.23.jpg?ix

An already heated debate over a proposal to build a 101-foot-tall Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple in Cody, Wyoming has taken an ugly turn.

Members of a group opposing the Cody Wyoming Temple in its proposed location told Cowboy State Daily that some of their yard signs were stolen, vandalized and replaced with new versions condemning the group in a variety of ways.

Extreme Makeover

Terry Skinner and Carla Egelhoff, members of the Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods group that opposes the temple location, said their group has had about 20 signs stolen so far.

Some were found in dumpsters, while others were altered and posted in public again mocking arguments those opposing the temple had made at public meetings.

“Whoever is putting these messages on them, they seem to be taking things personally,” Skinner said.

The first signs showed up the morning of June 27, just hours before the second public meeting on the proposed temple was held. Skinner said this batch of reappropriated signs were spray painted black with white handwriting written over it.

More signs appeared June 30 and July 1.

Some strike a sarcastic tone and accuse opponents of the project of being bigots, satanic behavior and calling members of the church “Mormon trash.” 

Egelhoff said one sign was painted with a sneering red devil and the words “We Need Your Support.” Both she and Skinner said another sign sarcastically alluding to those who oppose the temple as bigots is “offensive.”

“All we can say is people seem to be upset,” Skinner said.

Ugly Turn

Another sign reads “Mormon trash” on one side and “We Made Cody” on the other, which many find confusing because the city was founded by Buffalo Bill, who was not a member of the church.

According to the Historical Cody Mural and Museum, it was not until the 1920s that members of the church settled in Cody, a few decades after the founding of the town.

Skinner said although they don't know who is vandalizing the signs, they feel confident it is not a member of their group doing so in an effort to make those supporting the temple look bad.

During a recent meeting between Preserve Our Neighborhoods and members of the church, both sides agreed they’re not happy with the ugly turn that the temple discussions have taken.

“There was no resolution on how to mitigate those concerns other than agreement that are extremes on both sides that shouldn’t control the dialogue,” Skinner said.

Temple-signs-2-7.18.23.jpg?ixlib=js-3.8.

Discrimination

Skinner and Egelhoff have consistently stated that their group doesn’t oppose a temple in Cody, but simply opposes its proposed location. They believe the proposed location violates the Cody Master Plan, a guide for future growth in the city. 

“We don’t talk like that, we don’t think like that, those kinds of thoughts and actions and messages are not even in any of our discussions,” Egelhoff said about allegations their message is intolerant of the church. “We’re talking about the building, the codes, the suitability or lack thereof.” 

Todd Christensen, a bishop of a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ward in Cody, said the message clearly is anti-church, not about building codes. 

“I’m pretty sure when they say, ‘not in my neighborhood,’ the same argument has also been extended to ‘not in my town’ and in some instances ‘not in my county,’” he said. “At some point you have to put your foot down and say that’s not right.”

He believes it no different than if someone was trying to argue against Black children being allowed to attend school in their area or members of other religions from being allowed to live somewhere.

“That’s like saying, ‘It’s not about race, but I just don’t want colored kids to go to our school.’ ‘We like Jews but they should just go somewhere else,’” he said.
...
Temple-signs-1-7.18.23.jpg?ixlib=js-3.8.

I am disappointed that some (hopefully a very few) Latter-day Saints are imputing motives of bigotry, particularly given the civility expressed by those opposing the temple.  I am also disappointed that the bishop quoted above is doing this, and is doing so in his capacity as a bishop.  Pres. Nelson's call for civility in his "Peacemakers Needed" address is relevant here.

In any event, news just came out that the Church is filing suit:

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has filed a lawsuit against the City of Cody’s Planning, Zoning, and Adjustment Board. The petition, filed Monday, July 17, 2023 with Park County’s District Court, was submitted in regards to the proposed Temple development.

In the petition, it requests the Court to review the “agency action” of Board, stating that the during the special meeting held on June 15, had sufficient votes by three of the five Board members in attendance to approve the proposed temple’s “Site Plan”.

According to the court document, the Church would like the Court to review if the Board “erred as a matter of law” when determining that a motion to approve the Site Plan failed for a lack of majority.

The document also states that the “Utah based corporation” known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, owns approximately 4.69 acres inside the city limits of Cody, and they have a desire to construct a Temple there.

The Church submitted the Site Plan and the Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board held a special meeting on June 15, 2023 to consider approving the permits required to construct the temple.

During the June 15 meeting, 5 of the 7 board members were in attendance. A motion was made to approve the Site Plan with three board members voting in favor, one voting against the motion and one abstaining from voting.

The petition states that the Board Chair stated the motion failed with the understanding that the motion required an affirmative vote from majority of the board, at least 4 of the 7, despite only 5 members being in attendance.

The Church is requesting judicial review of the Board’s decision to approve the Site Plan that the Board Chair failed.

The court document claims that an affirmative vote requires only the majority of the Board in attendance, not the entire Board and that 3 of the 5 votes is enough to approve the Site Plan.

The petition was filed by attorney Kendall R. Hoopes against the City of Cody’s Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board. Attached to the document was a copy of the minutes from the June 15 meeting.

So the lawsuit is about a very specific - and nonreligious - issue, namely, whether the PZA Board's approval of a site plan requires

  • A) a majority vote of board members present at the board meeting (which happened, since three of the five board members voted in favor of the site plan), or
  • B) a majority vote of the overall members of the board (which did not happen, as there are seven members, and only five attended the meeting in question, and only three of the five voted in favor of the site plan).

A few thoughts:

1. This is a question of law ("given what has happened, what does the law say"), not a question of "fact" ("what actually happened").  Questions of law are generally easier to answer than questions of fact.

2. The Cody Municipal Code, Section 10-4-4, requires a party disagreeing the the PZA Board to act very quickly (within days).  Specifically, a "Notice of Appeal" must be filed "within ten (10) days after the decision has been entered on the commission's records," and then a lawsuit must be filed "{w}ithin ten (10) days" of filing the Notice of Appeal.  The hearing was on June 15, but per the news item above the lawsuit was not filed until July 17, or 32 days later.  The only way the Church's lawsuit is timely is if the PZA Board's decision was not "entered on the commission's records" until July 7 or later.  

3. Regarding the "majority vote of the board present at the meeting" v. "majority vote of the board altogether, regardless of how many are actually in attendance" issue, the Municipal Code is silent:

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10-4-2: MEETINGS:
 
The commission shall adopt rules in accordance with the provisions of this title. Meetings of the commission shall be held at the call of the chairperson and at such other times as the commission may determine; provided, that the commission shall meet not less than four (4) times per year. The chairperson or, in his/her absence, the acting chairperson, may administer oaths and compel attendance of witnesses. All meetings of the commission are open to the public. The commission shall keep minutes of its proceedings, showing the vote of each member upon each question or, if absent or failing to vote, indicating that fact and shall keep records of its examinations and other official actions. All minutes shall be filed immediately in the office of the commission and are public records. (1960 Compilation § 26-104; amd. Ord. 74-16; Ord. 80-7; Ord. 85-1; Ord. 87-3; Ord. 99-11)

Based on this, my hasty surmise is that the Church's legal argument is correct, as I suspect five of the seven board members present is sufficient to constitute a quorum, and that a majority vote of those five present are sufficient to accept the site plan.  We'll see what happens, I suppose.

Thanks,

-Smac

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15 minutes ago, smac97 said:

So the stated concerns are:

  1. The "architectural integrity" of the neighborhood;
  2. Light pollution;
  3. Traffic concerns;
  4. Intrusion into wildlife area; and
  5. Height of temple (which substantially contravenes the city's Master Plan).

These all seem like valid concerns.  I would hope that as we build temples in new areas that we could be seen as the best of neighbors.  While some change is unavoidable with new construction, if a temple was being built in my neighborhood I would be concerned about all of the above as well.

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6 minutes ago, ksfisher said:

These all seem like valid concerns.  I would hope that as we build temples in new areas that we could be seen as the best of neighbors.  While some change is unavoidable with new construction, if a temple was being built in my neighborhood I would be concerned about all of the above as well.

These concerns could be magnified a hundred times over in places like Montana or Wyoming.  The people in some of the remote towns there treasure their isolation and community association (and I can certainly understand that).  I spoke with a fellow employee recently who told me of the recent move of her and her husband from California back to the town where she grew up in Montana or Wyoming (I forget which).  The fact that she moved there from California is a big red flag, and they can't even get contractors to work with them on things they want done to their home.  As soon as the local businesses hear they moved there from California, they are blacklisted (according to her).  And, she keeps trying to say, "But I grew up here, this is my real home", but it doesn't seem to be working for her.

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17 minutes ago, bluebell said:

It's on the outskirts of a residential area but on the edge of usable space because of the bluff.  Right now those fields are used for grazing cattle.

It looks like the proximity of that property to Sulphur Creek is the intrusion into the wildlife area.  That seems like a valid concern.

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40 minutes ago, ksfisher said:

It looks like the proximity of that property to Sulphur Creek is the intrusion into the wildlife area.  That seems like a valid concern.

Probably not much though.  It's most of a ditch than a creek when it runs through the town, plus it runs right through other business properties with no issues.  And it's at the bottom of the bluff that temple will be built on and won't be impacted at all by the construction or traffic.

Cody is a town of about 9,000 people next to a national forest.  It has herds of deer that live in the city.  The whole place is a wildlife area.

If you are looking at the map, all of the area north of the words "sulphur creek" is zoned for business.  The big white building north of the  tractor supply store is one of those giant walmarts. The bluff overlooks the main business area of the town.

Edited by bluebell
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34 minutes ago, InCognitus said:

These concerns could be magnified a hundred times over in places like Montana or Wyoming.  The people in some of the remote towns there treasure their isolation and community association (and I can certainly understand that).  I spoke with a fellow employee recently who told me of the recent move of her and her husband from California back to the town where she grew up in Montana or Wyoming (I forget which).  The fact that she moved there from California is a big red flag, and they can't even get contractors to work with them on things they want done to their home.  As soon as the local businesses hear they moved there from California, they are blacklisted (according to her).  And, she keeps trying to say, "But I grew up here, this is my real home", but it doesn't seem to be working for her.

I feel bad for her but she might not be wrong.  Montanas and Wyomingites are really starting to hate Californians.  They move in, make all of the houses super expensive, and then try to make the place like California.  Lots of resentment.

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I get the Church wants the temple to be a beacon and personally it gives me a bit of a thrill to see a temple in a beautiful setting, ever since I could see the Oakland Temple from my high school across the Bay (granted to really see it binoculars were useful).

Used to be able to sit on the bed in my Grandma’s  front bedroom and see the Provo Temple all day and night.

But maybe it would be useful to lose half the tower. Seems like it would be prominent enough still with being on a bluff.

And the light pollution is a big, big deal for me, especially since I need to sleep with the window open for most of the year for good sleep.  I like my room pretty cold. I can’t cover it with a blind as that blocks the air. Nowadays the quality of the air is poor enough that I put a hepa filter on a fan to make a cheap and very effective air purifier), so that solved that problem mostly, some light still gets through.  I have had neighbors whose spotlights were on all night and shined right into my eyes anytime I sat up in my bed and kept my bedroom pretty light all night. I had to wear a mask to be able to sleep and the mask itself used to keep me awake (until they came up with a design that doesn’t press against my eyes thank goodness….it looks like an eye bra to be honest though).  There were many nights I so want to take a rifle and shoot it out. Wouldn’t likely, but given some of my craziness at night, glad I don’t own one. 

Anyway, I hope the Church cooperates there even if it isn’t the law and turns off the lights after 10 or 11 PM, after the traffic and the town gets quiet. 

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"To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?"

- 1 Corinthians 6:7 ESV

I agree with bluebells concerns, it just looks bad and can easily create enemies where none existed previously. 

Edited by pogi
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2 hours ago, pogi said:

"To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?"

- 1 Corinthians 6:7 ESV

I agree with bluebells concerns, it just looks bad and can easily create enemies where none existed previously. 

"In the petition, it requests the Court to review the “agency action” of Board, stating that the during the special meeting held on June 15, had sufficient votes by three of the five Board members in attendance to approve the proposed temple’s “Site Plan”."

It's not like the church is suing for any amount of money; but rather just to "review the agency action".  But of course, the word "lawsuit" always sounds bad whatever the case.

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11 hours ago, rodheadlee said:

So if they can't build a Temple what will they do with the property?

As I understand it, the temple has already been approved. At issue right now is the height of the spire and maybe a couple other things.  But maybe I’m misunderstanding something. 

Edited by bluebell
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I remember staying in another Wyoming town with a smaller temple, I believe it was in Star Valley. And isn't that near Cody? If I lived in Cody with the stars in the sky being revealed because of no city lights, I'd be mad too. Little things like seeing stars at night, is a big deal to a city slicker like me. I'd hate to see that change. Something about the dark nights in the small country towns that are so neat. I hope the church rethinks fighting this, and find a better solution.

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9 hours ago, JAHS said:

"In the petition, it requests the Court to review the “agency action” of Board, stating that the during the special meeting held on June 15, had sufficient votes by three of the five Board members in attendance to approve the proposed temple’s “Site Plan”."

It's not like the church is suing for any amount of money; but rather just to "review the agency action".  But of course, the word "lawsuit" always sounds bad whatever the case.

That they sued suggests they aren’t sure they could get a majority if the whole board met. Not a good sign.

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8 hours ago, Tacenda said:

I remember staying in another Wyoming town with a smaller temple, I believe it was in Star Valley. And isn't that near Cody? If I lived in Cody with the stars in the sky being revealed because of no city lights, I'd be mad too. Little things like seeing stars at night, is a big deal to a city slicker like me. I'd hate to see that change. Something about the dark nights in the small country towns that are so neat. I hope the church rethinks fighting this, and find a better solution.

Cody and Afton are about 5 and 1/2 hours from each other in the summer (when you can drive through the park). In the winter it’s probably more like 8. But Cody is only 1.5 hours from the Billings Montana temple.

But Cody does have 9,000 people so it’s not very dark at night. 

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17 minutes ago, Stormin' Mormon said:

Nope.  It suggests that once a legitimate vote has been taken, citizens can't keep re-hearing and re-voting until they get the results they want. A municipality cannot alter the process after the fact; they must administer the same process in the same way to each applicant.  To do otherwise is a violation of due process and can land the city in a potful of hot water.  

Except the municipal code is silent on the issue of whether the majority vote is based on who is in attendance, or on the majority of the whole board, regardless of who is in attendance.  I don't think we have enough info to suggest that this isn't the same process that has been used for other applicants, or that due process wasn't being followed in this case. 

 

Edited by pogi
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2 hours ago, bluebell said:

Cody and Afton are about 5 and 1/2 hours from each other in the summer (when you can drive through the park). In the winter it’s probably more like 8. But Cody is only 1.5 hours from the Billings Montana temple.

But Cody does have 9,000 people so it’s not very dark at night. 

I got carried away in my imagination, I am dying to get out of the city!

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43 minutes ago, Stormin' Mormon said:

Nope.  It suggests that once a legitimate vote has been taken, citizens can't keep re-hearing and re-voting until they get the results they want. A municipality cannot alter the process after the fact; they must administer the same process in the same way to each applicant.  To do otherwise is a violation of due process and can land the city in a potful of hot water.  

Source: Me. I finally get to opine on a topic for which I have professional training and experience.  I got my Master's degree in City Planning, served on the Planning and Zoning Board of my hometown for 12 years, and currently work as a policy advisor to the town manager of a mid-sized municipality.  

Sometimes you can be technically right but still wrong for both the Church and the community. 

A lawsuit to get your way may legally work to force the issue. But what do you think that community who has valid reasons to not want the temple in their neighborhood going to think about the Church forcing it down their throats by suing every time they look at that monolith? Obviously some in the community will remember that the whole board never approved this,  and only through suing did the Church impose its will. Is it going to be a beacon of faith and spirituality, or a reminder that the Church, through legal force took away their starry nights and quiet neighborhood streets.  It has now become a symbol of division within their community 

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Nope, never mind.  Found the section of the town code where it explicitly states that it's a majority of the P&Z Board then present. 

Town Code 9-2-3:  https://codelibrary.amlegal.com/codes/codywy/latest/cody_wy/0-0-0-7476

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The issuance of a permit shall be conditioned upon the applicant receiving an affirmative vote of a majority of the Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board members in attendance at said meeting.

 

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