The Planning Commission is scheduled to take a final vote on a
proposed Mormon temple and steeple, but chances are that tonight's
vote won't be the end of the discussion.
Planning commissioners could opt to postpone their decision to
request more information or simply to take more time to make up their
minds. If they do give an official yea or nay tonight, there's a good
chance that, either way, the question could be appealed to the City
Council. And it's not impossible the matter could end up in court.
"We'll do the best we can to ferret out all the issues, hear all
the public testimony and make, as a group, what we believe to be a
fair decision," said Steven Kiser, chairman of the Planning
Commission. "Our objective is to consider the potential impacts,
which are largely aesthetic, but also be fair to people who own
Kiser, like many of his colleagues on the commission, said he
would not support the original proposal for a 123-foot 9-inch steeple
on top of the 17,575-square-foot building planned for 2300 Bonita
Staff members have suggested a 100-foot steeple as a compromise.
But that recommendation could be reconsidered in light of the recent
discovery that the existing stake center's steeple is 18 feet shorter
than the 86 feet reported in city documents. The difference is
relevant because church officials say the temple's steeple must be
more prominent than the stake center's to reflect the greater
importance of the building to their religion.
Temples are where the church's holiest activities, including
marriages, must be performed.
Still, some residents say the church's objectives could be
accomplished with just a 75-foot steeple, but church officials take
their direction from the church president in Salt Lake City, whom
they consider to be a prophet of God. Thus, local church officials
have limited power to make compromises.
Residents who oppose the project say this poses a problem for
making such local, community-oriented decisions.
"If the decision maker is in Salt Lake City, what does that mean
for our role as residents of Newport Beach?" said David Wolf, a
homeowner in the Bonita Canyon development who has opposed the
church's original project.
Most opponents emphasize that they are happy to welcome the church
to the area if its presence is not too imposing on their residential
area. The height of the steeple, the hours the building will be
lighted and the amount of traffic it generates top their list of
Some also say that there need to be restrictions on the amount of
holiday decorations on the building. They point to temples in Arizona
and other places whose stunning holiday light displays attract
"We as a community have always been willing to compromise," Wolf
said, adding that he would accept a steeple slightly higher than the
existing stake center's, perhaps up to 80 feet.
Church planners have made concessions on their $10-million-plus
project, including reducing the hours the building is lighted and
changing its exterior color.
But opponents have said this isn't enough.
And the biggest sticking point, the steeple, remains up in the
air. On Wednesday afternoon, city planners began discussing whether
they should modify their 100-foot steeple height recommendation based
on the surveys of the stake center steeple. As the business day came
to an end, city staff were still uncertain whether they would change
their recommendation prior to tonight's Planning Commission meeting.
* JUNE CASAGRANDE covers Newport Beach and John Wayne Airport.
She may be reached at (949) 574-4232 or by e-mail at