Thursday, December 3, 2009

Phoenix City Council Unanimously Approves Proposed LDS Phoenix Temple; Opponents Mull Petition Campaign To Stop It Via Initiative

Note: All posts on the Phoenix Temple available HERE, with the most recent post displaying first.

On Wednesday December 2nd, 2009, the Phoenix City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to allow the LDS church to add 10 feet of height to its proposed temple, to be built at 5104 W. Pinnacle Peak Road, near the corner of 51st Avenue and Pinnacle Peak, adjacent to the LDS chapel in the area. The building will stand 40 feet high, despite typical residential zoning laws preventing buildings from exceeding 30 feet in height. This means construction can start, possibly within 18 months from now. Primary media stories from KNXV Channel 15, KPHO Channel 5 with video HERE, and the Arizona Republic; additional story published by the Mormon Times. See my previous post for more background.

There has been some confusion regarding the height issue. This Arizona Republic graphic best illustrates the issue. The building itself will top out at 40 feet, which was the primary issue of contention. The additional steeple and spire above the base height raises the total height of the structure to 126 feet. Some local residents also complained about the height of the steeple and spire, but that is a separate issue that was not under official consideration at the council meeting.

To accommodate the overflow crowd of an estimated 1,000 people at the meeting, the city council shifted the meeting to the Orpheum Theater. Despite concerns raised about the height of the steeple, a city planning official told the audience that the federal Religious Freedom Act permits churches to be built in any type of zoning and does not restrict the height. But members of the Little Deer Valley Homeowners group also raised concerns that the temple would overtake the neighborhood and worried that a nearby two-lane road couldn't accommodate visitors. Some opponents are also concerned about the lighting of the temple, although many crime experts assert that lighting in a neighborhood can discourage opportunistic crime.

Some local residents are not reconciled to the city council's decision. Scott Anderson, who spoke out on behalf of neighborhood resident after the vote, said, "Being legally allowed to do something doesn't mean you're being respectful to the neighborhood." [Ed. Note: That argument has limits; for example, being legally allowed to terminate unborn human life through elective abortion doesn't mean you're respectful to human life, either. At a certain point, we have an obligation to be tolerant of legality even if we consider it "disrespectful".]

Anderson also said a group of neighbors will not give up their fight to get the issue to voters, proposing a petition campaign for an initiative. According to city leaders, a group must gather 9,798 legitimate petition signatures from registered Phoenix voters within thirty days in order to push the issue towards the ballot. Opponents also continue to stress that their opposition is to the building rather than the LDS Church. "We respect their right to worship, this isn't about religion," said Anderson. "What it's about is a building that's incompatible with the neighborhood." This has been verified by Mormons and non-Mormons alike. In addition, opponents are also reaching out to the adjacent community of Glendale for support, since the Glendale Arrowhead Community have also expressed concerns over additional traffic on 59th Avenue.

Meanwhile, the LDS Church and supporters of the proposed temple are anxious to move forward with their plans and intend to make every effort to make peace with the neighbors, according to Paul Gilbert, an attorney representing the temple supporters. Gilbert said the church has already made several concessions regarding the proposed addition, including agreeing to turn the lights off at 10 p.m. and changing the color of the exterior paint they had intended. The LDS Church provides further information about the project on their website.

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