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Heber temple development agreement up for review as group challenges church progress

An artist's rendering offers an early look at the Heber Valley temple.
Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints
An artist's rendering offers an early look at the Heber Valley temple.

As the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seeks county approval to build a temple in the Heber Valley, a resident group has challenged the recent outdoor lighting concessions the church asked for.

After a groundbreaking for the temple last October, then a months-long process to change dark sky rules and allow lights to shine upward on buildings, the church has submitted a development agreement for review.

A staff report states it’s a common step to take in building applications for projects that include “unique features.” County staff said they expect to discuss the project with church planners at multiple upcoming county council meetings, the first one is Wednesday.

“That application includes a development agreement that enumerates certain provisions, or items that we want to address and clarify,” said Dustin Grabau, county manager. “[The meeting Wednesday] is not to approve the Heber Valley temple project in any way. It's just to discuss the contents of the development agreement, as proposed by the applicant. So, it includes things like the height of the building, connectivity to local areas, how we handle viewsheds and parking and a whole myriad of issues.”

Details in the draft agreement include height maximums. For the main body of the building, the cap is 100 feet, but it states one steeple would reach 210 feet into the sky, and a tower on the other side extends 141 feet up. It also states the church will build trails to become part of the public trail systems on edges of the 18-acre property.

Some details concerned nearby neighbors, including an assertion that Center Street and an eastern bypass route to be built soon will be sufficient for temple traffic.

The development agreement is not final until the county council votes to confirm it. Grabau said he doesn’t expect that to happen in Wednesday’s meeting.

Aside from the development agreement, some who opposed the county council’s decision on the lighting code update are still fighting that outcome.

County officials called it a compromise between the priorities of the church’s planners and temple supporters, and Heber Valley dark-sky advocates. The code amendment allows up lighting, which church advocates asked for, consistent with nighttime lighting common at other temples.

The county also required limits on brightness and set time limits according to sunset and business hours, whichever is latest. In the development agreement, the church states its business hours would be 5 a.m. until 10:30 p.m., and it reserves the right to adjust that based on worship times.

Members of Save Wasatch Back Dark Skies, a group of residents who denounced up lighting at public meetings, filed a complaint last month in Fourth District Court.

It alleges the county failed to provide public documents as required by state law in time for public meetings and states the council’s decision to confirm the new rules should be overturned.

“Unfortunately, they chose not to fulfill our GRAMA request, which we had been working with them on for months prior to the dark sky public meetings and then the vote,” said Lisa Bahash of Save Wasatch Back Dark Skies, "until it was actually too late for us to include many of the items that were provided by the consultant in our questions and in our public comments.”

She also said the group may file more complaints in court or start a referendum for the public to vote on the lighting code and/or location of the temple.

“We will use all the tools at our disposal in order to work with the county or against the county in order to get something that better represents what the residents of this area would like to see in a temple,” she said. “We're not against the temple. We're happy to see a temple within the valley in the proper zoning area and have the proper mass size and scale for this community.”

Grabau said he hopes the legal process will play out quickly. He also said he’s confident the county can prove it followed all the processes required for the code amendment.

Church planners declined to comment on the development agreement proposal up for review in Wednesday’s Wasatch County Council meeting.

The council meets Wednesday at 4 p.m. at the Wasatch County Administration Building, 25 North Main Street.

The agenda and a link to attend virtually are available here.

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