A new piece by my colleague Genelle Pugmire outlines the ongoing fallout from the LDS Church’s attempts to build a 9-story building on its Missionary Training Center campus. Among other things, the story notes that the building is likely to happen, but that the church’s “invitation” to support the plan continues to cause controversy. (For more information and background, see this post.)
The story also includes a detailed history of the issue — including how LDS Church leaders made it religious mid-stream — and notes that the public seems to be lining up in support of the neighborhood:
Public comment on the issue has been epic. According to McGinn, in the 18 years he has worked in the city he cannot remember a topic where they have received more email, phone calls or visits. The Daily Herald has seen more than 100 comments online on all sides of the controversy, though most have lined up in opposition to the ecclesiastical pressure brought by the church.
That’s a surprising turn of events in a town as Mormon as Provo. But perhaps even more significantly, the church’s actions — which it has tried to spin as not exerting undue influence — have put the all-Mormon city council in a bit of a bind. Councilman Gary Garrett, for example, apparently hasn’t decided how to vote when this issue comes before him. Councilman Sterling Beck summed up the problem even better:
This has kind of put us in an awkward position. Everyone wants to do their best to represent their constituents. … My take before was one that I’d be supportive. This has made me a bit concerned.”
His point of view is looking at the future needs in city development.
“Unless we go up we won’t see that much development,” he said. “It was going to be quick and easy. This is one of those things that was going to be a sleeper. Now I’m not so sure.”
I think Sterling’s points are spot on; it’s the church’s tactics that have made this issue a problem, not really the building itself. And as I indicated in a recent post on this topic, some church leaders seem to be approaching this project like they’re theocrats or mafiosos.
That’s bad enough on its own, but the ultimate outcome may be even worse for the entire city. According to Genelle’s story, there are efforts underway to change zoning laws from an already-flawed system to one with more oversight and regulation.
Zoning is a complex issue, but my impression from the article is that the proposed changes would make it more difficult, or at least more effort-intensive, to build tall buildings in parts of Provo. That would be an unfortunate development because, as Sterling pointed out, Provo needs to grow vertically. Moreover, victories like Provo’s recent Forbes business ranking stem in part from the fact that there are generally fewer regulations — building or otherwise — than in bigger, coastal cities. A new zoning law wouldn’t necessarily ruin Provo’s business climate, but it would stifle vertical development and help create a more regulated environment.
It was extremely disappointing to see the church attempt to make this land-use issue religious by bullying the faithful into submission. But while that will probably remain the most volatile aspect of the situation, I think it’s actually even more frustrating to see the church’s bumbling political tactics possibly result in a less development-friendly city.