Summit County Residents Resist LDS Church Plans for New Chapel

Summit County Residents Resist LDS Church Plans for New Chapel

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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) -- Some Snyderville Basin residents are resisting Mormon church efforts to build a 16,500-square-foot meeting house near their homes, citing increased traffic and degradation of their mountain views.

The site near the neighborhoods of Trailside, Silver Summit and Highland Estates between U.S. 40 and Old Ranch Road would be designed to accommodate three wards, or congregations, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It would sit on 6.8 acres with 192 parking spaces.

Trailside resident Tim Drain fears his three children, who ride bicycles and skateboards in the neighborhood, will be in danger from increased traffic. "With this proposal, I'd have five days a week, 52 weeks a year of (heavy traffic) use in my neighborhood," he said.

A year ago, David Evans, president of the Park City LDS Stake, sat with other church members through heated public hearings before withdrawing a request to build a chapel in the Silver Creek area north of Interstate 80 near its junction with U.S. 40.

The debate has turned nasty lately. A church-sponsored neighborhood informational meeting left both sides bitter.

"It was extremely divisive," said Max Greenhalgh, head of the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission. "It wasn't orderly. People were hollering. And the church people couldn't finish their presentation."

With 4,000 members in western Summit County, the church needs more meeting space, Evans said. The church has tried to be sensitive to residents' perceptions, he said.

For Silver Summit resident Bob Read, however, the issue has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with his neighborhood's setting.

"When we bought this house, we were told the area behind us would be open space in perpetuity," he said.

Especially shocking was the church's proposed 69-foot steeple. "Our back yard has a view of the mountains across 500 acres of open space. This would be right in the viewshed," Read said.

The steeple exceeds Summit County's 32-foot height limit, Greenhalgh noted. But if the Planning Commission approves a conditional-use permit for the building, the Summit County Board of Adjustment also could grant a variance for the steeple.

There are legitimate planning issues, Greenhalgh said. But he also sees a not-in-my-backyard attitude.

"People are enjoying the quietness and beauty of the mountains. Having an edifice erected in the neighborhood can be offensive to them, Greenhalgh said. "The definition of an environmentalist is the last person to move into the neighborhood."

Planning commissioners will discuss the matter May 11.

Greenhalgh said some residents want the church next to Interstate 80. Drain and some of his Trailside neighbors would rather see the stake center south of Home Depot near the industrial park on the east side of U.S. 40.

"My concern is that the county is going to appease the church," Drain said, "and just put this through, when there are more appropriate places for it."

The church does own land near Home Depot, Evans said, but it likes to locate its ward chapels in neighborhoods. "It is not our preference to hold Sunday services in an industrial park," he said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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