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.