By Kent Larsen
Maine Branch Faces Zoning Controversy
NORTH YARMOUTH, MAINE -- The Yarmouth branch has grown from 40 members to
150 in the past eight years, and now it is trying to build a chapel. But the
building's neighbors are objecting, saying the building is too large for the
community and that its construction seems to be controlled by far-off
officials in Salt Lake City.
Currently, the branch meets in the North Yarmouth Congregational Church,
packing the small building every week for meetings. "We are using every room
that is available," says longtime branch member Jean Bibber.
But some neighbors say that the building is simply too large for a small
rural community. "They are going to build this giant facility that is not
for anybody in our community, and plunk it down in the middle of our
community," says neighbor John Williams, "It doesn't seem right." The
proposed 13,000-square-foot meetinghouse would be one of the largest
buildings in North Yarmouth, which has just three LDS families.
But local LDS leaders note that North Yarmouth is the geographical center of
the branch, which extends from North Deering to Freeport and upper New
Gloucester, a distance of more than 15 miles. Yarmouth Branch President Reed
Quinn says he chose the building's design from two prototypes that Salt Lake
officials told him he could use. The design, called "Heritage 98
Traditional," is expandable to 17,000 square feet on a single story,
including 15 classrooms and a nearly full-sized basketball court. He says
the building is the right size for the congregation, because of all the
congregation's activities and because of the nature of LDS worship.
Neighbor Debra Spark, who lives next door to the proposed site, says that
religion doesn't enter into the neighbor's objections, "I'm Jewish," she
said. "I'm the last person to object to [Mormons]." Her husband, Gary
Mitchell, says the size of the building seems too large for the
congregation. "I hope they are a little embarrassed by it," he said. "It
seems to be a move to dominate the landscape, for a relatively small group
of people at the moment."
Some of the congregation's efforts to help neighbors understand may have
backfired, however. The branch invited neighbors to the Congregational
Church they meet in and showed a video about the construction of Mormon
chapels and how they helped improve neighborhoods. But some residents became
nervous because of the video's "slick" production, which convinced them the
project was being controlled by Salt Lake City. "It wouldn't be that way if
it was a Lutheran or Congregational church," Williams said.
The problems with the Yarmouth building are not unusual, since the LDS
Church is now opening a new chapel every two days somewhere in the world.
The well-known conflict over the Boston Temple has been repeated in several
local areas as neighbors have objected to LDS buildings. In Maine, the LDS
Church has chapels in Cape Elizabeth, Windham, Oxford, Cornish, Topsham,
Augusta, Winthrop, Belfast, Rockland and Damariscotta, serving a statewide
population of about 8,500 members.
The proposed building will go to the North Yarmouth Planning Board for
review next month, but since the zoning allows construction of a church on
the lot, the board will probably be limited to issues like parking and
lighting. Branch president Quinn hopes construction will begin in April.
The Portland Press Herald article also gives a thorough description of the
LDS Church and its history, including the demanding nature of LDS beliefs.
These demands contrast significantly with mainstream religions. Bangor
Theology Seminary professor Glenn Miller says that mainstream religions are
"flabby in every way." "Many people feel that mainstream churches don't
stand for anything or make a difference in their lives," he says.
Portland ME Press Herald 21Jan01 D1
By Tom Bell: Portland Press Herald Writer