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Heber Valley residents turn out to talk about dark skies, lighting rules

[FILE] The Heber Valley night sky and whether stars are visible in it have attracted much attention since the LDS Church announced plans for a Heber Valley temple — possibly with bright lights shing upon it.
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[FILE] The Heber Valley night sky and whether stars are visible in it have attracted much attention since the LDS Church announced plans for a Heber Valley temple — possibly with bright lights shing upon it.

Wasatch County residents showed up in droves to oppose proposed new lighting rules, as the LDS Church moves toward getting approval for a new temple in the Heber Valley.

Over 100 people packed the Wasatch County Senior Center carrying signs that said “Dark Skies Matter” and “Protect Our Valley Views.” Some had to watch the meeting standing in the back of the room because seats were filled to capacity.

The county’s planning commission was tasked Thursday evening with reviewing an application from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day to change the local code regulating outdoor light, even though the proposed new language came from county staff.

Despite the meeting’s public hearing being strictly about the new lighting rules, many residents used the podium to voice opposition to the temple.

“I’m concerned about the noise,” said Denise Gibson, who lives near the temple site. “I’m coming to you because I don’t know where else to go,” she told the commission.”

The LDS Church announced plans to build a new temple in Heber in late 2021. Although a groundbreaking was held last fall, the project doesn't have administrative approval for construction yet.

The Church first moved to change Wasatch County’s lighting code in November. In response, the county hired a dark skies consultant to help draft a comprehensive new set of rules for the unincorporated county.

The biggest change the Church is seeking, and what the county’s new rules would allow for, is uplighting. Currently, outdoor lights in Wasatch County can point down or straight out but may not point up.

The new ordinance would also regulate specific metrics of light, which the county doesn’t regulate now. This is where the Church and Wasatch County differ. LDS representatives asked Thursday for more allowances on color temperature and other lighting measurements, in order to light the church the way they want.

Curtis Miner, an architect working on behalf of the Church, said plans for the Heber Temple call for much less lighting than other temples have. Some who spoke Thursday applauded those concessions.

Miner noted that due to FAA requirements related to the Heber Airport, either two red flashing beacons or part of the temple’s tower would have to be lit at night.

Most who spoke Thursday were against changing the lighting rules, but others said it was the right move for a place bound to see a lot of growth and development in coming decades.

Lisa Bahash spoke on behalf of a group called Save Wasatch Back Dark Skies, which produced a survey showing people overwhelmingly want lighting rules to remain the same, or become more strict. She called for more collaboration and called the proposed ordinance “flawed.”

“The temple has become the catalyst for the dark sky issues,” Bahash said. “But it is the dark sky ordinance that needs careful study and consideration right now, not the temple project. Please do the right thing and table this for further deliberate study by specialists and a representative group of citizens.”

Bahash said she tried to review the contract between the county and the dark sky consultant but she couldn’t. Shawn Savarino separately said her public records request for a copy of the contract resulted in the county clerk saying it wasn’t available.

Stuart Waldrip of Midway said he was a fan of the proposed ordinance.

“My concern is that there are those who unfortunately are using the dark sky progress that this ordinance represents - the tremendous step forward that these gentlemen and the staff have presented to you for moving to the county council - there are those who would use that as a tool to defeat the temple," Waldrip said.

"And one of the gentlemen that spoke before me said as much, this is the place they think they can kill it.”

Mike Mahoney’s ancestors moved to the Heber Valley in the 1800s. He said he enjoys watching the community prosper, but with that has to come change.

“I think that the county is making a good faith effort to compromise to have an opportunity to have continued growth and expansion," Mahoney said.

"Opportunities for people that want to move here, to come here and be a part of our community. But with that there’s compromise. We’re not going to have the skies of 1859.” 

The planning commission concluded the meeting by unanimously forwarding the decision to the county council without a positive or negative recommendation. The county has the final say on adopting the new rules.

The county council will hold a public hearing and review the proposed ordinance on Wednesday, April 5, at 6 p.m. at the Wasatch County Senior Citizens Center.

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