PHOENIX — More than three years after it was initially announced, the LDS Church's Phoenix Arizona Temple is now officially a construction project.

Leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints joined with local community officials Saturday to break ground for the Phoenix temple.

Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy presided at the ceremony. Also attending Saturday's small, ticketed event were Elders William R. Walker, Michael D. Pickerd and Jim L. Wright of the church's Quorums of the Seventy and Ann M. Dibb, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency.

Elder Walker serves as executive director of the LDS Church's Temple Department.

Local civic leaders attending included Ken Bennett, Arizona's secretary of state; Steve Court, state majority leader; and Thelda Williams, Phoenix vice mayor.

The groundbreaking was broadcast to LDS meetinghouses throughout the temple district.

The Phoenix Arizona Temple was announced by LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson in May 2008.

When original plans and designs for the Mormon temple were announced and city approvals were being sought the following year, a neighborhood group aired concerns about parking, traffic, lighting, building size and tower height.

The church submitted a redesign in 2010, but neighbors continued to balk at any progress toward construction, threatening protests and legal appeals.

Late last month, church officials met with representatives of the neighborhood coalition and together signed a memorandum of understanding in a spirit of compromise.

Highlights of the agreement include:

Creating a steering committee to revisit traffic, parking and other issues.

Limiting the temple's open-house period to 30 days, not including the dedication services, and using a reservation/ticket system for the open house and dedication.

Turning off all lights projecting above the 30-foot roofline at 10:15 p.m., with parking lot lights to remain on to aid late-night temple patrons.

Reducing the temple spire's height an additional foot (now 10 feet lower than the original design) with the spire narrower and less bulky than the original design.

Located in the northwest area of metropolitan Phoenix, the temple will be the church's fifth in the state of Arizona. Three currently operating temples are located in Mesa, Snowflake and the Gila Valley, with a fourth under construction in Gilbert, in the southeastern section of the metro valley.

About 400,000 Latter-day Saints reside in Arizona.

The LDS Church has 134 temples operating worldwide, with another 26 announced or under construction.

With construction expected to last about two years, the Phoenix Arizona Temple is being built next to an existing Mormon meetinghouse. The two buildings differ in use and purpose.

Meetinghouses usually include a chapel, a cultural hall and classrooms and are used for Sunday worship services and other meetings and activities throughout the week. Anyone is welcome to attend meetings or activities in the meetinghouses

Temples are open during the week but closed on Sundays and are considered the most sacred edifices by Mormons. Only worthy, authorized Latter-day Saints are allowed to enter the temples, although temples are open to the public during the pre-dedication open houses.

Temple services, as explained by LDS Church statements "bind families together forever, teach the purpose of life and explain God's plan of salvation," while temple attendance "emphasizes personal spiritual growth and strengthens Latter-day Saints' commitment to following the example of Jesus Christ."

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