Wasatch County officials recommend approval of Heber Valley temple, despite community divide
Oct 26, 2023, 5:22 PM | Updated: 5:23 pm
(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
HEBER CITY — The Wasatch County Planning Commission recommended the county council approve updated plans for the proposed Heber Valley Utah Temple after dozens of residents shared concerns or support for the build during a tense, six-hour meeting late Wednesday.
The Heber Valley Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be the first temple in Wasatch County and is planned to be built southeast of 1400 E. Center. It was announced during the church’s October 2021 general conference, and the location was announced the following year.
Emotions run high
Some residents raised concerns about the temple’s size and lighting, and the effect the building could have on traffic and groundwater in the area, while others said the temple would have a positive impact on not only those in Heber City, but surrounding communities.
The temple, according to current code, can be built under conditional-use permits in the proposed zone, county attorney Jon Woodward said. However, it is not what is typically seen in that zone, since it is the first temple the church has applied for in the county.
The proposed 18-acre temple grounds would include 7½ acres of landscaping, county officials noted in a staff report. The temple would cover 88,000 square feet and be just under 81 feet tall. According to the report, it is a unique project because of the size and scope of the building, and because the property is in Wasatch County — but the roads that provide immediate access to the site are in Heber City.
Many residents at the meeting pleaded for the commission to approve the church’s proposal.
Breah Wright said she grew up in Heber City and wished she had a temple nearby when she became a widow at age 22. During the winter, it was too dangerous for her to drive to a temple, she said.
The temple will also help small businesses in the community by bringing in more traffic, Wright added.
Other residents said they don’t oppose a temple there, but they disagree with the scope of the temple and such a building doesn’t fit in the area.
“It’s just not the right location; it’s not the right size,” Kelly Rogers said.
She said if a hotel or “box store” wanted to build in that location, it would be “shut down immediately,” because it would not be compatible with the surroundings.
Tonya Webb also said she is excited for a temple to be built in the area, but that the current plans are “hurting a lot of our neighbors and dividing us as a community.”
She asked for “compromise,” including a smaller temple, “dark-sky compliant” lighting and a different location in the Heber Valley.
“There could be a beautiful compromise here that would bring us all back together and show Christlike compassion,” Webb said.
Others said the church has complied with existing ordinances in its proposal.
Carl Gray said general zoning allowed for a temple, and those who drafted the general plan “were under no misconceptions in terms of what a temple would mean in terms of scope or scale.”
He said the temple complies with ordinances, traffic guidelines and “best practices,” and he believes people’s objections to it are based on personal preference rather than code violations.
Elizabeth Edmond said she’s been in Europe for the past 18 months serving as an advocate for freedom of religion and belief, helping religions build synagogues and temples. In Europe, she said, people get used to living next to religious buildings “and they end up loving it.”
“They bring an incredible spirit to the community,” Edmond said.
After the public comment period, members of the commission said there have been very few issues in the county that have caused the amount of public participation and comments seen at Wednesday’s meeting.
Church officials responded to technical issues found earlier this year by an internal development review committee, according to the county’s report. Issues resolved then include modified plans to use dimmer lights and more muted colors in construction to comply with lighting code.
The plans call for a 200-foot-tall steeple at the west end, and a second steeple at the east end, at about 140 feet tall. The staff report says the structure is “extremely tall” for the area, as buildings in the residential zone have a maximum height of 35 feet, but greater heights are allowed as a conditional use for churches, church towers or similar structures not used for human occupancy.
A representative for the church spoke during Wednesday’s meeting about the intended design of the temple, saying it took inspiration from other Heber Valley buildings, plants and flowers, and almost half of the temple property will be landscaping. The property will also have about 450 parking stalls and a small maintenance building.
Heber City has approved a roundabout near the temple, connecting Center Street, the temple entrance and Foothill Boulevard. The city performed a traffic analysis and concluded the temple proposal is acceptable and meets industry standards. Temple construction will also include a dead-end improvement at the end of Pimlico Drive, paid for by the church.
Other worries expressed by some residents regarded the groundwater and an aquifer located under the property. The staff report explained dewatering would occur during construction of the footing and foundation. The church representative also assured the aquifer will be safe throughout the construction of the temple.
No construction will occur on the area of the property that is part of a floodplain, due to Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations, the staff report said. There will also be no change to elevation of the area.
The commission ultimately approved the church’s request for a legislative development agreement, final subdivision plat approval and site plan approval for the proposed temple. The commission added a provision that lighting levels at the future temple will need to be checked annually to ensure no “lighting creep” happens.
The proposal will move to the Wasatch County Council for final approval on Nov. 8.