Thoughts on the MTC Building Conversation

The the LDS Church’s 9 story missionary training building continues to cause controversy and make headlines. Last week, it showed up in a Daily Herald opinion piece as well as in this KSL story. The Herald piece points out that the residents continue to oppose the building based in part on the alleged promises the church made in the 1970s:

According to a document in BYU’s archive reporting a speech at the MTC groundbreaking on July 18, 1974, Fred Schwendiman […] said that the buildings would be “four stories in height, but with the first floor being about one-half floor into the ground so that the appearance will not be one of a high unwieldy structure. …” […]

By plain reading, Schwendiman was describing a three-and-a-half-story building. And that’s what residents remember — a promise that they wouldn’t see the imposition of a high, unwieldy structure.

Here are a few thoughts on this conversation:

• If this building was slated for my neighborhood, I’d support it. Of course, this building won’t technically increase population density or generate new, long-term jobs. However, it could set the precedent for other, similar types of development that would accomplish both of those objectives. In other words, I think it’s a mistake to oppose tall buildings simply because they’re tall buildings; in the future, those buildings will be keys to growth.

• That said, a good neighbor doesn’t unilaterally build a massive structure in an area where the residents oppose it. (Of course, the world has many bad neighbors.) What worries me is that if this could happen in one part of the city, it could happen anywhere. I wouldn’t mind a tall building in my neighborhood, but I’d hate more parking lots, for example. I consequently wouldn’t want private developers to be able to come in and damage the built environment simply because they’re extremely rich and own some land. Today, this is about a tall building, but tomorrow it could be about a different project in a different neighborhood.

• The 1970s are irrelevant. Forget them. The argument that the neighborhood’s composition should be based on anything from that long ago alienates, or at least lacks appeal to, anyone younger than 40. Cities change — Provo more than most, in fact — and hearing  vague, 40-year-old promises left me more sympathetic to the LDS Church’s plan to erect a tall structure. So, exactly the opposite effect the argument was supposed to have. This discussion should be about the future, not a long-dead past.

Ultimately, I’m not a resident of this neighborhood. But I think it’s important that powerful groups — even ones like the LDS Church — acknowledge the standards of the community they’re impacting.

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7 Comments

Filed under BYU, Mormon

7 responses to “Thoughts on the MTC Building Conversation

  1. I think it’s insensitive to call the promises from the 1970s as “irrelevant”. Despite the changes in the city those people who remember that verbal contract are, more than likely, the residents or children/grandchildren of the residents that were present when that contract was considered “the present”. If the public is voicing an opinion against a private corporation (i.e. the LDS church [when you accept Burger King and Domino’s Pizza stocks, etc. conveniently from Romney’s Bain Capital that is when your organization is a corporation]) then they are at least due a revisiting to that verbal contract (which I believe legally hold some heavy water in Utah).
    Your argument seems a bit generational and insensitive to families who feel anything outside that verbal contract they received from a church spokesperson is a breach of contract and not in good conduct. Not everyone is into the “up-and-coming” and what you consider hip, myself included and I’m 27 (“younger than 40”, as you put it).

    • Good points.

      My point is that the argument about the 1970s is ineffective — irrespective of its sensitivity — not that necessarily that it’s wrong (though, the fact that this project is moving forward suggests that it is, in fact, legally insupportable).

      On principle, I support the residents position, but their (your?) rhetorical construction of the issue drove me into the opposite camp. If the residents arguments were successful, this building would A) not be happening, and/or B) would be a bigger issue in the larger community.

      Neither of those things are happening, so the argument has clearly failed.

      • Another quick thing. I completely agree with you about the poor conduct of the LDS Church (despite being LDS myself) and with the fact that it’s a corporation. Seriously, 100 % agreed.

        But this issue needs to get people outside of the neighborhood involved, as well as city leadership. Right now, neither of those groups are particularly engaged. The LDS Church is just too powerful for a group of residents from one neighborhood to fight it (hence, the church is moving forward). So my feeling is that, politically and rhetorically, the solution here is to make the argument that will appeal most to the larger city, as well as to city leadership.

  2. I’m not a resident of the area, live in South Provo, just started reading up on the situation. I am supportive of the residents in that particular area, hence, I am supportive of their “rhetorical construction” of the issue.
    Let’s be honest, with your A) and B) counterpoints… the church is very powerful and holds heavy social and political sway in Provo, so A) a small band of concerned but relevant peoples has little time, money, legal-experts, etc. to counter the church’s moves. B) The larger community would have to, more or less, be reacting against the LDS church if they opposed the commencement of this building. The LDS church is not only a private corporation but a religion to many and think of the moral dilemma for those who would be opposed to a decision made by the general authorities. That just doesn’t sit well with people, so I think it’s easier for most to push that one into the apathetic column… or just blindly side with the church which, in my experience, happens in many cases.
    The church being a religion or supposed “moral compass” of sorts would be wise to not forget what, “On principle, I support the residents position”, actually means. On principle (doctrine and teachings from the LDS church) wouldn’t it be wise to be an empathetic and caring christian neighbor?
    I dunno, seems to be a whole lotta violation of christian and mormon principles in this case. That to me means hypocrisy and I would expect more from a religion that boasts how loving and caring they are to their neighbors. Is the private corporation of Mormonism an exception to these teachings? And before anyone spills it, spare me the legalities argument, etc. etc. etc. because if I recall correctly “the law” in Missouri once allowed for the legal extermination (murder) of Mormons. When it comes to claiming to be a religious institution the secular or state law should not be the go ahead to screw people over.

    • Yeah, I agree about the un-Christian and un-Mormon aspects of the LDS Church’s actions in this case. And I also agree that a lot of people end up feeling apathetic about the issue due to their relationship with the church. This may ultimately me a losing situation for the residents simply because the church is just too ingrained in the community. However, I think that a good argument would help people see the difference between land-use policy and their faith. That’s an extremely difficult argument to make, but I don’t think it’s impossible.

      In any case, I think there are four entities involved: the church, the residents, the city leadership, and Provo residents of other neighborhoods.

      Right now the residents’ arguments seem to be targeted at the church. I think those arguments are someone what unfocused, but in any case the church is the _least_ likely audience to change it’s mind. As you point out, changing the minds of other residents would be tough as well. So we’re left with city leadership. My feeling is that the residents should try to create a wedge between the city leadership and the church. City leaders should stand up for and defend their residents against entities like the church, but in Provo that rarely seems to happen (I think there are aspects of the Tabernacle Temple that are screwing over the city as well, but that aren’t properly being explored). Residents ought to forcefully point that out, and frame the issue as city leader capitulating to a powerful special interest group. Make city leaders politically liable.

      But all of this is somewhat beside the point because the church is moving forward and no one is stopping them. I would gauge the effectiveness of an argument by the results it produces. In this case, the argument has produced none of the results it was supposed to, so I would say it failed. The residents’ argument might have some redeeming qualities, but if reframing the issue and targeting a different audience would be more effective, why not try that?

      • heathen think

        I like your comments & willingness to point out inappropriate actions of church while being an active member.
        Good points on practical action that should happen from this point involving city leadership. Hopefully this particular event sets some sort of positive precedent in community grassroots action. If anything we can learn from it and people will learn that the community as a whole should control and be involved with Provo’s future and not select elite groups and corporations.

  3. Pingback: When People Compromise, Everybody Wins | (pro(vo)cation)

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