Paul Gilbert was feeling serendipitous.
"I'm feeling good, very positive," said Gilbert, president of the Tempe Arizona University Stake and real estate attorney who represented The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its effort to obtain a zoning variance for the planned Phoenix Temple.
On Dec. 3, the day after Phoenix City Council had voted unanimously to allow the church to build a new temple — a 40-foot-high building plus 86-foot steeple spire — Gilbert was grateful for the support from Phoenix area Mormons.
"I've been very involved from the start, but I've sure had a lot of help. I've been very, very proud of our members."
The temple project, planned on West Pinnacle Peak Road near North 51st Avenue adjacent to an existing LDS chapel, required a zoning variance because the maximum allowed height was 30 feet for the building. The city's Planning Commission approved the variance, and it then went to the City Council.
"We're allowed to build a building 30 feet in height," Gilbert said. "We are only asking for … 10 additional feet of height. The spire is not regulated. It can go as high as we wanted it to, but we were careful right from the start not wanting to go too high, and we are about 60 feet lower, for example, than the Gilbert Temple, which was recently approved here."
The height of the building was one of the issues that sparked some intense opposition to building a temple. Some nearby homeowners had argued that the temple would block their mountain views, increase traffic in the neighborhood and decrease property values.
"I think we all underestimated the opposition and tenacity of the neighborhood," Gilbert said. "And we are in a neighborhood where there is not a lot of height in the homes immediately surrounding (the temple site)."
The weekend before the council vote, opponents turned in a petition with more than 1,000 signatures protesting the temple. They also hired a lawyer to oppose the temple and have threatened a referendum.
Gilbert said, "They have to gather a little under 10,000 signatures in 30 days and they all have to be registered voters. The sad thing is that this, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is much ado about nothing. I predict the temple, once it's built, will be a very good neighbor and will not have any adverse effect whatsoever on the neighborhood."
Despite the opposition, support from the Mormon community has been strong throughout the process.
More than 1,000 supporters attended the Planning Commission meeting at which the temple was approved, and about the same number turned out for the council vote. Because of the crowds, the Planning Commission meeting was moved to a high school gymnasium, and the council meeting was held at the Orpheum Theatre.
"It's been a great paragon of cooperation between the various church entities," Gilbert said. "Primarily we had people attend who were in the temple district … we assigned speakers and we coordinated it with the stake presidents and public affairs council. … We've also encouraged the various stakes to e-mail the City Council and we've had hundreds of e-mails go … in support."
Gilbert said at least 50 percent of the people who live adjacent to the temple site have not protested against it.
But for all the neighbors who oppose construction, he said, the church has tried to address their concerns in these areas:
Height of the building
As a trade-off for the building's extra 10 feet in height, Gilbert said, the temple will be set back from neighbors' rear yards five times more than what it otherwise would be.
"The result of that is that you will see less of the temple from the neighborhood than if we were 30 feet (high) with the same spire."
Lighting at night
"We normally keep the lighting on at the temple until 11 o'clock," Gilbert said, but "we're turning it off at 10 o'clock as a concession to the neighbors — and we don't have to do that. The ordinance allows us to go until 11."
In addition, he said, "We are not fully lighting the temple." The city of Phoenix has a "dark sky ordinance," which restricts lighting at night.
"We're exceeding the requirement" by having less light than is allowed, he said, and the Phoenix Temple's lighting will be only a quarter as bright at night as lighting at the Mesa Temple, he said.
"This is a real nonstarter in my judgment," Gilbert said, but if there's a traffic problem in connection with a zoning case, the city requires that a traffic study be done. "We weren't asked to even do a traffic study."
But Gilbert said the church went ahead and had one done.
"The city agrees with the conclusion of our traffic study that the … level of service is very good at the temple site — way above the minimal requirements.
"The major point I think I've been winning some converts on is (that) if we build the temple to 30 feet in height and didn't get the additional 10 feet, we would still have the same traffic. There is not a causal relationship between the 10 feet in height we're asking for and the amount of traffic."
"Now the neighbors are also bringing up that the open house will flood the neighborhood," Gilbert said, "so we have agreed to limit the open house to 30 days." He added that a reservation system for visitors will be used and the open house will be coordinated with Phoenix's traffic department.
That will "ensure that we are not going to cause an event that we don't have adequate parking for." Parking at the adjacent chapel will provide additional room for the open house, he said.
Gilbert said some neighbors didn't want the temple to be a stark-white color, "so we've agreed that the temple will be a buff color with earthy tones," he said.
He said some homeowners also were having problems with drainage, so meetings were held to come up with solutions to the problem of water backing up at the wall on the property line and flooding.
"We're going to take water, allow it to come through the wall so it doesn't back up … and we'll take it out to (the street)."
Gilbert is among the many Mormons who eagerly await the temple's construction.
"We waited to have a temple in Phoenix for a lot of years, and our LDS community here is really excited about having the temple here, and they have been so helpful and positive and enthusiastic about coming to the meetings and supporting us," he said.
"I think it's helped bring our community together. It's been a very good experience."
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