The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has withdrawn its proposal to build a new meetinghouse near its temple on the West End of Billings.
In a letter from the church delivered to the city-county Planning Department on Monday, a spokesman said the church was honoring verbal statements it made nearly 20 years ago, promising to build “no additional religious facilities” in the Rim Point Subdivision.
Harvey Bonner, one of the temple neighbors who had strongly opposed plans for the meeting house, said a representative of the church handed out copies of the letter, dated June 4, to neighbors on Friday.
Zoning Coordinator Nicole Cromwell confirmed that a copy of the letter was submitted to the Planning Department on Monday. It was signed by J. Roberto Hernandez, the regional director for temporal affairs for the LDS Church in Salt Lake City.
To read the letter, click here.
The church had applied for what is known as a special review to build the meetinghouse, and it was that application that was withdrawn. On May 5, the Billings Zoning Commission voted 2-2 on the special review, and the application was originally supposed to be considered by the City Council on May 26.
In mid-May, the church asked to postpone that consideration until June 22. Plans for the 16,558-square foot meetinghouse, which would been built just southeast of the temple, which is located at 3100 Rim Point Drive, drew heated opposition from people in the neighborhood.
They argued that church representatives, during the contentious process surrounding plans to build the temple in 1997, had said they wouldn’t build any other religious structures in the area.
The letter from Hernandez said the church recently conducted “due diligence research” and found that nothing to that effect was stated formally. However, the letter continued, “we learned that there were verbal statements made that no additional religious facilities would be constructed on the remaining 46 residential lots in the Rim Point Subdivision.”
“Latter-day Saints strive to live with integrity,” Hernandez said, “and we feel it is right to acknowledge the concern of our neighbors based on their interpretation of our information that was not clearly conveyed at the time.”
He said the church commonly puts meetinghouses close to its temples, and that is still the preferred location, but it will now be seeking another “suitable site.”
Bonner said he was “surprised and pleased” to see the letter on Friday. It was delivered by Spencer Zaugg, a local dentist and LDS stake president. Cromwell said the letter was delivered to the Planning Department by Zaugg’s wife Beverly.