A plan to build Connecticut's first temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Route 4 in Farmington was approved Tuesday night by the town's Plan and Zoning Commission.
The site plan application and zone change, which calls for a 35,000-square-foot, white granite temple, topped by a tall steeple and statue of the angel Moroni, were approved unanimously despite the objections of several residents who said they worried the temple would create additional traffic and reduce the town's tax base.
Jean Gorcyzka alone spoke as an enthusiastic proponent of the project, saying, “I am not a Mormon but I am so enthusiastic about these people coming to town. I think it’s a wonderful, wonderful project.”
Evan Cowles and Brie Quinby complimented the design work but raised concerns about the levels at which the temple would be lit at night. Both proposed the commission reevaluate the lighting plan in a year, a suggestion the commission adopted.
April Mock, a mother who lives in the Highlands, fervently objected to the plan on grounds it would add the already impossible traffic situation on Route 4.
“I can’t get milk, buy gas or bring my children anywhere without Route 4… I already have to sit for half an hour to travel a mile and a half,” Monk said.
She had reviewed the traffic study, which she said dismisses the impact of traffic on Saturdays – one of the temple’s peak traffic times with a projected 75 trips.
Commission Chairman Phil Dunn reminded Mock and other speakers that a traffic study, approved by Farmington Town engineering staff, described the temple as likely to have almost no increase over the present situation — an office building and several empty houses.
Diane Barnes sharply objected to the project because of traffic concerns and loss of taxable land. She also questioned whether the temple would be appropriate for the proposed location.
“I appreciate that they want to create a landmark but I’m not sure Farmington has asked for a landmark,” she said. “The building itself is very monument-like. With the white granite, the reflection off the building materials, it’s going to be pretty intense.”
She noted that the tax-exempt status awarded to religious institutions is due to the anticipated benefit to quality of life, including organizations’ involvement in the community. The temple, she said, offers no such benefit since it will only host visitors and not be home to a faith community.
Dunn explained that the commission is not allowed to take tax matters into consideration of a zoning application, rather, it makes land use decisions based on town regulations.
There was little discussion from the commission on the vote.
“Last year we approved the Goddard School for this location. The office building would have remained, the Goddard School would have been built, which would generate considerably more traffic, and there was a proposal for at least two more office buildings,” Dunn said. “So what we’re really doing is taking 11 acres of potential office buildings and schools and substituting it with literally what’s already there. In the morning it will lighten the load. From a traffic perspective, it’s beneficial.”
According to Kerry Nielsen, project manager for the church, construction would begin in September and last about two years. Once the temple is completed, it would be open to the public for viewing for a period of time, then will be dedicated. Once it is dedicated, the temple will be closed to all but "active faithful members of the church measuring up to the worthiness code of the temple," Nielsen said.
The temple would sit on 11 acres between Melrose Drive and Bridgewater Road, surrounded by heavily landscaped formal gardens, which would be open to the public.
The plan also calls for two other buildings on the property – a 2,094 square foot house for a caretaker couple and a 753 square foot utility building. Buildings and parking lot would cover just over 36 percent of the 11-acre site – less than the 40 percent required in town code.
Flanking the temple site on the plans is a proposed “New Town Road,” which would eventually connect Melrose Drive to Bridgewater Road, creating the opportunity for possible development of the area along the river. The church plans to build the road, running parallel to the river, from Melrose Drive to a temporary cul de sac. Peter Fishman of PKT Development, which owns the development on Bridgewater Drive, plans to build the other half of the road, to connect the two streets.
For more information on the project visit http://mormontemples.org/hartford.