PROVO, Utah (ABC 4 News) – Tough decisions tonight for members of the Provo city council. They’re hearing a proposed amendment to the Public Facility zone submitted in response to the possible 160-foot tall expansion to the BYU Missionary Training Center. Residents say at that time they were fighting a zoning issue, but now their fighting a much bigger force, the LDS church.
Neighbors in the Pleasant View neighborhood say their view isn't going to be so pleasant if BYU’s Missionary Training Center is expanded to new heights.
Lorie Johnson said, "We thought we had promises when they said they'd go no higher than four stories."
That was back in the 1970's when the MTC was originally built under the guidance of President Spencer Kimball.
“Shouldn't a promise by a past prophet by the church be honored and shouldn't Provo citizens be able to speak out and say this is wrong without jeopardizing their church membership."
Johnson is referring to the church's decision to make this issue an ecclesiastical matter. On July 1st her stake president was directed to issue an invitation for members to support their brethren and their decision to expand the MTC.
"I feel like they're using our membership in the church against us,” explained Johnson.
George Frey has been working with Lorie to get someone either from the church or the city council to sit down and hear their concerns, but after the invitation, talks stalled.
Frey explained, "In this case it was used to squash opposition and we went from 80 percent support at varying degrees in the neighborhood to almost zero overnight."
Frey says that not only includes neighbors but the elected officials of the city council.
I’ve personally talked to some, not all, and it had a chilling effect. They were intimidated by how do they as city officials, and their positions, go against the church they are members of."
BYU nor the LDS church wanted to comment on the issue, but the Provo Mayor John Curtis did go on the record saying the invitation from the church was not extended to him.
Curtis said, "It was not extended to me. I feel no pressure from the church to feel one way or another."
Frey explained that at least one of the council members did get that invitation as a member of the community. "Where, especially in Utah, do we draw the line on ecclesiastical authority on a moral issue okay, but on a zoning issue?” Frey asked.
The Pleasant View neighbors still speaking out about the MTC expansion say they’re not against the redevelopment of the center just the size and placement of the building which will only be 400 feet from their homes.
Mayor Curtis says the proposal to the Public Facility zoning looks to limit the height of all public facilities and it is likely the council won’t vote to make such a sweeping change. Even if the proposal was accepted it wouldn’t effect the pending changes to the MTC.