Next step here in temple debate

June Casagrande

After months of meetings, discussions and surveys, the Mormon

Temple issue is finally scheduled to come before the Planning

Commission.

Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will

ask commissioners on Thursday to consider their request to top off

their new temple with a spire that reaches 124 feet into the sky. The

steeple, the height of which includes a gold-colored angel statue, is

part of the 17,500-square-foot project slated to be built at Bonita

Canyon Drive and Macarthur Boulevard. Church planners have presented

the project as a boon to neighbors, with expansive public gardens,

open space and little or no effect on traffic.

But an unofficial survey has shown strong opposition to the

project.

Residents who have opposed the temple worry that the steeple will

harm their views. Some have also said that the building color and

lighting are a concern.

Church planners have made concessions on these points, deciding

that most exterior building lights will be turned off at 11 p.m. and

that the color will be a muted coral color instead of the original

off-white.

The steeple height, however, has remained inflexible. Church

planners say the steeple has a special religious significance. The

temple design, they say, is divinely inspired, which makes aspects

such as the steeple nonnegotiable.

An environmental study of the proposed temple judged that the

aesthetic effects of the temple are negligible -- a ruling that

angered residents who disagreed with this subjective assessment.

It's unclear whether the city has the power to forbid the steeple.

City ordinances exempt churches from normal building height limits as

long as a permit is issued. That permit will be the central question

in front of the Planning Commission.

Further, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act,

which President Clinton signed in 2000, says, "No government shall

impose or implement a land-use regulation in a manner that imposes a

substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person." A city

analysis of the what this means for the church is expected to factor

into the upcoming commission talks. A local church official said it

would be up to their leaders in Salt Lake City to decide whether to

fight Newport Beach in court on the basis of this act.

* JUNE CASAGRANDE covers Newport Beach and John Wayne Airport.

She may be reached at (949) 574-4232 or by e-mail at

june.casagrande@latimes.com.

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