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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended May 14, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 13May00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

Mormon church near Big Sky turned down by zoning commission
Billings MT Gazette 11May00 D1
By John Miller
[Submitted by Mary Etta Parkinson]

BIG SKY, MONTANA -- The Gallatin County Zoning Commission voted 3-1 against a proposed LDS chapel, saying that its location was a bad spot for a church. In a two-hour hearing on the issue, neighbors of the property questioned the building's compatibility with the subdivision while Church supporters questioned the religious bias of those that opposed the project.

However, the Commissioners ultimately claimed that they were judging a building, not a religion in voting against the permit necessary for construction to begin. One of the commissioners, Bill Murdock, told the hearing before his no vote that the scenic character of the neighborhood and its location outside of the existing commercial center ran against the zoning district's goals. "With the location of this use, it doesn't seem appropriate," he added.

The lone voice on the commission in favor of the permit, Phil Olson, disagreed, calling the Church's application, "one of the better conditional uses" for a residential neighborhood. He said that traffic from the current 10 active LDS Church members would have minimal impact on the neighbors, "There could be more impact from a residence," he said, adding that loud parties or other residential activities could cause a greater disturbance than twice-weekly Church services.

One of the fears expressed by the building's neighbors was that the building might end up, in the future, much larger and more involved than the current plan. One neighbor returned from Chicago for the meeting, bringing with him several poster-board-size illustrations, including one showing a monstrous LDS Temple on the site, blotting out the view.

Opposition to the Church's plan was lead by J.C. and Marjorie Knaub, who live near the proposed building, J.C. Knaub said that the vote shows that the community wants to be careful about development, "It proves that people in the know are the people (in Big Sky) who have been chosen to review development," he said. "This . . . affirmed the views of the local forum."

But Church supporters claimed that a petition circulated by the Knaubs included misleading information, including the assertion that the building would have 12,000-square-feet of floor space and a 20-foot spire, neither of which were part of the Church's request. The current request was for a 2,000-square-foot building that could be expanded later.

But Marjorie Knaub told the Chronicle last week that her petition didn't mention a 12,000-square-foot building. "The paper that people signed said they do not want a church in thatsubdvision, They did not attest to the size of the church when they signed the petition."

LDS Church spokesman Charles Brown, in Helena, Montana said that Church officials in Salt Lake would review the Zoning Commission's decision, and added that the Church also remains committed to building a chapel in the Big Sky community. Any alternative site must meet the LDS Church's requirements as far as cost, location and the needs of the local LDS community. According to Brown, the Church has a policy against building chapels near bars.

And local LDS Church members are optimistic that a place will be found, "There's a spot somewhere," said Mardella Coil. "There's a place for us somewhere."


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