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Wasatch County hearing illustrates divided community’s hopes and fears about Heber Valley temple

Dozens of community members gave feedback during the public comment session of the hearing Oct. 25.
Grace Doerfler / KPCW
Dozens of community members gave feedback during the public comment session of the hearing Oct. 25.

Citizens’ feedback about the proposed LDS temple displayed the rift temple plans have caused in Wasatch County Wednesday night.

For close to two hours, community members lined up to make public comments about the temple proposed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a site just outside Heber City.

At the planning commission hearing Oct. 25, supporters of the temple project spoke emotionally about what the building would mean to them, while those opposed to current plans worked to poke holes in the church’s application.

About 50 people shared their views, both in person and online. Each person was given two minutes to address the planning commission, with about equal numbers advocating for and against the temple plans.

Bob Pearlman, the first commenter, brought up an inflammatory issue.

“To the extent that any of you, county council, et cetera, are members of the LDS church, you have an inherent conflict of interest,” he said.

At the beginning of the hearing, the county attorney asked the commissioners to raise their hands if they had been threatened with loss of temple recommend or change in church membership status, or if they had been promised financial incentives, based on whether they approved or denied the church’s application. No one raised their hand.

Others objected to the church’s use of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that allows religious institutions certain zoning exemptions. In this case, the law will enable the church to bypass the conditional use process – the land development agreement (LDA) will give permissions for the temple construction instead.

“The county needs to do the work and not use the LDA as a shortcut,” resident Lisa Meisner said.  

The temple’s size has been another major point of contention in the valley, as Corey Noyes brought up.

“Before you forward this to our county council, please ask why our residents need three times the square footage of anyone else,” he told the commission.

Some supporters of the temple drew on the Heber Valley’s pioneer history in their comments to the planning commission.

“Tonight, my voice is the voice of thousands of our pioneer ancestors who left persecution… to find freedom to be able to worship as they pleased,” Stuart Waldrip said.

But while some looked to the past, others envisioned the future of the church in the valley. Wasatch High School senior Jacob Bradshaw carried a cardboard box up to the front of the room and placed it in front of the commission.

“With me here I have hundreds and hundreds of letters from students and youth here in Heber City in support of this temple to be built,” he said.

Other church members, responding to critics’ questions about whether the temple would benefit the general welfare, said practicing their faith in the temple will make them better friends and neighbors.

“Those who go in the temple make some sacred covenants to help them become better people… and to consecrate their lives for this good,” David Nielson said. “These are good things that make our people better and make our community generally better.”

After the hearing, the planning commission recommended the county council approve the temple plans, with some conditions.

The public will have another opportunity to give feedback to the county about the temple at a hearing Nov. 8.

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