After months of meetings, discussions and surveys, the Mormon
Temple issue is finally scheduled to come before the Planning
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
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
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