Mormon Church project moves forward with conditions

by Laura Bednar

Aug. 1 planning commission meeting

The Independence Planning Commission approved the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ request for a lot consolidation and special use permit to construct a temple at 5997 Brecksville Rd., with the condition that church members work with the city about lighting issues.

Residents at a July public hearing voiced concerns over the temple’s construction, specifically the proposed 100-foot-high steeple and exterior building lighting.

Resident Lucija Radujkovic asked how many U.S. temples had a steeple 100 feet tall, adding that 70 feet seemed sufficient. Christian Stevens, architect for the project, said the church was holding firm on the steeple height because it is “an expression of faith.” Every design goes through review by the ecclesiastical leadership of the church and its prophet, he added, and they believe the direction is “divinely inspired.”

Stevens said the lighting design meets city ordinances. The lights will be installed on the building’s flat roof pointed toward the steeple. There will be no lights on the steeple.

The construction plan includes vegetation around the perimeter of the property to block light from reaching homes on nearby streets like Longano Drive. About 15 feet of the steeple shows above the trees under the construction plan.

Longano Drive resident Robert Beastrom said certain trees lose leaves in the winter and “I don’t want to see lights in my backyard.”

Law Director Greg O’Brien said lighting that traverses across property lines is considered trespassing. Stevens said there was potential to add more vegetation if needed to ensure no lights on the building or from cars disturbed neighbors. The pole lights in the parking lot will be turned off when not in use.

A memo from Stevens proposed the lights shining on the steeple be on from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m.

“We want to make sure we control the impact of the lighting and the timetable,” said Mayor Greg Kurtz. “It’s probably not going to work at certain times of the year.”

O’Brien said if the city receives quality of life complaints about the building lights or the landscaping, the church must adjust. “The city has continued influence over the light and timing of the light,” he said. “We won’t know what the impact is until it’s built.”

Planning commission member Bill Gutermuth said he wanted approval to include a contingency to give the city say in reasonable lighting accommodations.

Planning commission member Cheryl Chase said Independence needs assurance that the church is committed to working with the city.

“We’re going to make sure that we do have a great relationship with one another, because we’re going to need you as much as we’re wanting to be here,” said Jason Symons, church member. “We will do our best to uphold and follow everything that we’ve communicated and will continue to be at the table if negotiations are needed in the future.”

The planning commission recommended that city council approve the special use permit and lot consolidation with the conditions that lighting be in compliance with Ohio Revised Code, city ordinances and receive approval from the city engineer. The city planner must approve the landscaping plan, and the steeple may not exceed 100 feet.

Also, Kurtz received a verbal confirmation that the church has no plans to acquire additional property for expansion.

City council approved the plan at its August meeting. ∞