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Proposed LDS Temple Special Meeting Held at Cody Auditorium

It was standing room only at the Cody Auditorium for the Special Meeting of the the City of Cody Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board to discuss the proposed Cody Temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

When the Planning and Zoning board walked on stage to take their seats, the energy in the room quickly dissipated as the crowd grew quiet. The special meeting was led by Board Chairman Carson Rowley with Scott Richard (Vice Chairman), Kim Borer, Matt Moss, and C. Dan Schein in attendance beside him. Two members of the board were absent; one of which excused themselves from voting.

Rowley let the audience know that aside from the public comments he would be listening to during the evening, he had received over 800 emails from the public about the proposed temple that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints want to build on Skyline Drive.

Before the board listened to the citizens of Cody, Rowley invited City Attorney Scott Kolpitcke to address the concern the community had about City Planner Todd Stowell. Stowell has been reviewing the paperwork for city regarding the temple, and is a member in good standing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Members of the community are concerned that there is a “conflict of interest” with Stowell being directly involved in the application process and not being able to represent the city effectively and impartially because of his religious beliefs.

Kolpitcke addressed these concerns, notifying the crowd that there was no conflict of interest by having Stowell fulfill his duties in the proposed development of the Temple.

Under Wyoming law, “conflict of interest,” formerly known as personal private interest, states that for a conflict to be recognized, a person must be immediately and directly be affected by what they are voting on and will receive some greater benefit by voting in one way or another. “Simply being a member of the Church to submit the application does not qualify him [for a conflict of interest],” said Kolpitcke.

Yet, the City of Cody Employee Handbook states,

The City of Cody handbook explicitly states, “All City employees are personally and professionally obligated to serve the public with honesty and integrity. It is essential that the trust of the public, the Governing Body and co-workers be maintained as decisions which go into the operation of City programs are made. Central to the standard of ethical conduct is the City’s policy that no employee shall have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, or engage in any business transaction, or professional activity or incur any obligation of any nature which is in conflict with the discharge of the person’s duties in the public interest.

Because the confidence of the citizenry is the very foundation for effective Government, even an unfounded appearance of unethical conduct by a City employee on or off the job can significantly impair the capability of City government. Thus, avoiding the appearance or reality of a conflict of interest forms the basis for the City’s ethics policy. City employment is not to be used for unauthorized personal gain. Any conflict between personal interests and official responsibility is to be resolved by consciously avoiding possible conflicts and disclosing the basis of any conflict or possible conflict to the employee’s supervisor so the potential conflict can be reviewed by the Department Head.”

Then Mr. Stowell was given the opportunity to address the contents of the application and details of the temple before the meeting was opened up for public comment. Showing slides to support why he felt that the permits should be approved, including visuals such as other lit temples in other towns, and different diagrams of how the temple would look from different vantage points in Cody.

Once Stowell concluded his initial presentation, Rowley gave the people who signed up to speak an opportunity to do so. The board allocated a maximum time of 3 minutes for 30 people for those in favor of the temple and the same for those who are opposed to it, a total time of 90 minutes for each side.

In total, 22 people spoke in favor of the temple and 22 against the proposed temple.

Those in favor of the temple were allowed to speak first. Many attendees shared a similar message about the significance of the temple in the LDS church. There was also an emphasis placed on how property values rise in areas with a temple.

Luke Hopkin, who addressed his support of the temple, shared studies with the board that showed the effect that the temple has on property values. “In the studies [provided], it is found that of the properties studied, 95% showed an increase in value,” said Hopkin.

Another issue Stowell and the Board addressed was the concern of traffic impact on Skyline Drive. Numerous individuals who were for the temple development at 555 Temple View Lane said that traffic is not an issue as the temple is not for the entire congregations of LDS members, but only those allowed to attend, which is significantly less than regular sabbath services.

After all of those in favor of the temple spoke, a brief intermission was issued. Once Rowley called the meeting back to order, those who were opposed of the temple were given the opportunity to speak.

Leading the list of opposition was Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods Group member, Brandi Nelson, who was clear that she supported the temple, just not in a residential area in which she resides. “The Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods Group does support the development of the temple. We are just simply asking that it not be located in a rural, residential zone,” she addressed the Board.

That was the consensus from those against the temple who addressed the Board at the meeting. Multiple members of the opposition spoke about when property values go up, so does property taxes.

Only one speaker of the evening was required to leave the podium for not following the guidelines outlined in the beginning of the meeting. When Park County Prosecuting Attorney Jack Hatfield took the mic, his passion against the proposed temple became quickly heated. He informed the board that he was not addressing them as the county’s prosecuting attorney but as Jack Hatfield and he was angry. “This is not the way to treat neighbors!” Hatfield shouted.

Hatfield was given two warnings while speaking, but when he began to discuss Stowell’s church affiliation, he received his third warning and was forced to leave the mic stand for violating the rules of the proceedings due to his emotions.

Once Rowley informed Hatfield to leave, an unidentified member of the crowd shouted, “GO HOME!”

Rowley then addressed Hatfield, “Sir, I asked you twice and I set the rules before we started. You chose not to follow them. I have to ask you to step back from the mic, please.”

Before leaving the mic, Hatfield said, “I will give you a warning! If you approve this, you will be sued!”

During the public commenting period when the opposition had the floor, members of the audience began to applaud. Rowley had to issue a warning to the public to contain their emotions and that applause was prohibited.

Photo by Jessi Entel

Once all public comment had been closed, Stowell was given another opportunity to answer some remaining questions the Board had.  It was then when the audience received their second warning when members began booing Stowell. Rowley had to remind the crowd that if they had one more outburst, the entire meeting would be tabled and rescheduled at a later date.

There was no more disturbances from the crowd the remainder of the meeting, but numerous items on the agenda were tabled.

The new business resulted as follows:

A. Public Hearing for the Special Exemption and Conditional Use Permit applications for the proposed temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, proposed at 555 Temple View Lane. – CLOSED

B. Interpretation of Building Height, as related to the proposed temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, proposed at 555 Temple View Lane (located just west of Skyline Drive and north of the Cody Canal, approximately 400 feet north of the intersection of Skyline Drive and Olive Glenn Drive). Presentation by staff. – FAILED

C. Consideration of Special Exemption application related to building height of the proposed temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, proposed at 555 Temple View Lane. Presentation by staff and applicant. -TABLED

D. Consideration of Commercial Site Plan Application for the proposed temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, proposed at 555 Temple View Lane. Presentation by staff and applicant. – TABLED

E. Consideration of Fence Height Waiver to authorize an increase in height from 4 feet to 6 feet for the fence in the front yard setback of the proposed temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, proposed at 555 Temple View Lane. Presentation by staff and applicant. – APPROVED

F. Consideration of Conditional Use Permit application for the proposed temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, proposed at 555 Temple View Lane. Presentation by staff and applicant. – APPROVED

The meeting was adjourned to the public at 11:22PM, after being called to order shortly after the 6 o’clock hour.

A meeting to discuss the tabled items has not been scheduled yet. If there are any questions about the Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board meeting from Thursday, June 15th, please contact the City of Cody office.

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