Provo neighbors have mixed views on proposed MTC building

Published: Saturday, May 19 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

PROVO — Driving south on Provo's University Avenue on a clear Saturday morning, orange balloons dot the sky.

The closer one comes to their source, a house on Lambert Lane, more come into view.  A handful of neighbors fill the balloons, tie them to strings at least 160 feet long and place them in their cars for distribution.

"They're just a reminder that there is a building that is proposed," said organizer R. Paul Evans. "(We're) trying to get a dialogue with the people who make decisions, to meet their needs as well as the flavor of this neighborhood."

The Pleasant View neighborhood sits in the heart of many things that make Provo what it is and Evans calls it a "gem" of the city. The LDS temple is to the east. BYU's Lavell Edwards Stadium and Marriott Center sit to the south and west, respectively. The "Y" mountain looms near.

And the Missionary Training Center — an epicenter of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' worldwide missionary effort — borders many of the neighborhood's homes. It has housed and trained more than one million LDS missionaries since the mid-1970s and, in 2014, it will feature a new, nine-story, 160-foot tall building.

City and church officials say the dialogue sought by opponents to the new MTC building is ongoing.

"After more than three years of evaluation and numerous neighborhood discussions, the church has chosen to add a new state-of-the-art language training facility to the Provo Missionary Training Center," LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said in a statement. "This building plan meets all current development codes and zoning requirements."

The LDS Church has created a "Neighbors" website about the project in an effort to address the concerns of those in the neighborhood. It explains why the building is needed — five existing buildings need replacing for myriad reasons from undersized classrooms to old heating, cooling and plumbing systems. It also addresses the reasons behind the decision to make one large building as opposed to the other options they considered. Renovations, replacements of the individual buildings or two, smaller buildings, for example, lead to excessive costs, limited future growth, would not meet current needs and would expand the MTC footprint.

As is, the building will be 400 feet away from the closest yard and the permit process is set to begin this month or next, according to the website.

Community meetings have also been held about the proposal. But some members of the neighborhood say the meetings have been fruitless and prompted Saturday's actions.

"We met as a neighborhood with the president of the MTC and realized that they were just going to go ahead with this, so we decided we were going to do what we could do to preserve the neighborhood," neighborhood resident Charlotte England said. 

She likens the building to a "monolith" and a "mammoth" and said she worries it will change the feel of her neighborhood or open the door to other large buildings. But she hopes to make it clear that it's simply and wholly about the building and nothing else.

"The main thing we're trying to do is educate people about what's really happening," she said. "Some people think if you oppose the building, then you oppose the church and the leadership, but it's not that at all. We don't oppose the expansion … we just don't want it that tall."

This is reiterated by Evans, who said he sometimes feels a "terrible angst" about whether opposition to the building will be misinterpreted and that it's an angst he hoped to avoid.

"This is not a LDS Church issue," he said. "It's a building issue and should be treated as such."

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