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Church State Issues

Phoenix attempts to stop Mormon Tempe from being built

Jan 15, 2011

Arizona Republic Article

Zoning officer questioned on Phoenix Temple parking lot spaces

by Betty Reid - Jan. 15, 2011 06:53 AM

The Arizona Republic

The two sides on a proposed Mormon temple in north Phoenix recently tried to make their case to a zoning adjustment hearing officer.

The dispute centers on parking for Phoenix Temple, planned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 5220 W. Pinnacle Peak Road, next to its meeting house. Phoenix has said 394 parking spaces is an adequate number.

An attorney for residents who are worried about neighborhood traffic went last week before hearing officer Ray Jacobs to question how the city had arrived at that number.

Parking became an issue in August, 2010 when church officials unveiled a redesigned temple that showed a lower, spread-out facility with a taller spire. The church is seeking a construction permit from the city to build the temple.

Jacobs will need to find answers to seven questions related to a city ordinance that regulates parking for places of worship and public assembly. The ordinance requires one parking space per three seats. Jacobs took the case under advisement.

Derek Fancon, Phoenix's Planning and Development Services traffic engineer, said parking was calculated using the temple's largest room, which would be used most.

The church's attorney, Paul Gilbert, emphasized that the site plans show 394 is more than ample parking for the temple.

"There is not an ordinance requirement to write a description" of how the church will use its parking, Gilbert said. "We submitted a floor plan. We told the city what we are going to do."

Neighborhood organizer Scott Anderson said the numbers don't add up. Anderson said he counted 133 rooms in the temple rendering and the city calculated parking using only 25 rooms.

"We feel that because in this new version of the temple that they've done this year, they've doubled the size of the temple," Anderson said. "By doubling the size of the temple, they have increased the usage, increased the traffic and we feel they've made it large enough now where they can no longer provide enough parking for a 58,000-square-foot building."

Church officials reiterated that the city already approved a site plan and decided the application is thorough and complies with all zoning regulations.

Parking "exceeds what is required by city code," Jennifer Wheeler, Phoenix Temple spokeswoman, said after the hearing. "The church is respectful of the zoning administrator role and believes he will concur with the city's application of the parking ordinance."

Wheeler said architects and engineers are still working on the plans for the temple. When the plans are completed, they will be submitted to the city as part of the permit process, she said.

The construction time line will depend on when the city issues the building permit, she said. She estimates the temple will take two years to build.

Mormon officials initially proposed to build an 86-foot spire on top of 40-foot building in an area where zoning caps building heights at 30 feet. The City Council approved the height, but neighbors opposed the height, saying the temple would draw too much traffic and block their views, and that the spire would emit light.

Residents collected signatures to take the matter to voters in 2010, but the council rescinded its decision after the church said it would redesign the temple. The new height is 30 feet and the temple size expanded and has a taller spire.