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Wasatch County Council will not change lighting rules in victory for temple plans

[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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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 shining upon it.

The Wasatch County Council decided against making lighting rules stricter after a public hearing Wednesday night, Sept. 20.

A citizens’ group had sought amendments to the county code that would have made outdoor lighting rules more restrictive and added new requirements for public input on development proposals.

Decisions about these proposals have become a flashpoint in the community because of how they relate to plans for a temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although the meeting was punctuated with reminders the debate was about the overall development code, it was clear most participants had come because of the temple.

Plans for the new building include uplighting and a 210-foot steeple. Because of the site’s proximity to the Heber Valley Airport, the FAA will require lights on the steeple. The temple’s construction is subject to the new lighting code the county council approved in April.

Dark skies advocates are concerned the temple will be too bright and development overall is moving too quickly, but last week, Sept. 14, the Wasatch County Planning Commission advised against adopting their proposed changes.

Wasatch County Planning Director Doug Smith reminded the council updates to the lighting code were less than six months old.

“The council may want to consider allowing additional time to pass before enacting significant revisions to the new lighting ordinance,” he said.

The majority of participants had come to voice their support for the temple’s construction. Dozens showed up in person and well over 100 attended the meeting on Zoom.

Heber City resident Dave Johnson was one person who spoke against the lighting amendment during the public hearing. He said Wasatch County citizens aren’t opposed to dark skies, but the county shouldn’t jump into a new set of rules before evaluating the ones they approved in April.

“The church has patiently and collaboratively waited two years since the temple was first announced in 2021 … before finalizing its development application,” he said. “We keep hearing and saying and telling ourselves that this is not about the temple, but there’s no reason to pretend that it is anything but that.”

Meanwhile, others in the community said dark skies were a key part of Wasatch County’s character. Gary Pugmire said he moved to Heber City because of the dark nights.

“I looked up and I could see Orion’s Belt hanging down in the constellation clear as a bell – the clearest night, and it was gorgeous,” he said. “Anything that would destroy that would destroy the reason for the Heber Valley being the Heber Valley that it is.”

Still, council chair Spencer Park said it’s the council’s job to help reach a compromise that will serve the community. The council decided to deny the proposed changes and keep the April lighting code.

A lawsuit filed by the dark skies group against the county is still in process.