Dozens of curious residents packed the Town Plan and Zoning meeting Wednesday night to hear the formal presentation of plans for a Mormon temple at the corner of Farmington Avenue and Melrose Drive.
Only one resident raised an objection. Several came with questions about how the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would impact their community.
Carefully came the answer from church project manager Kerry Nielsen, who travels across the country overseeing Mormon temple projects.
“This was our first choice,” Nielsen said of the Farmington site. “It will be a place of reverence, a place of faith, a place of instruction, a place for families. It will enhance and add to the community.”
The temple, proposed with a 24,000-square-foot footprint and formal gardens sprawling across 11 acres, would be an important addition for Mormons practicing locally and the 15,000 across Connecticut. The Hartford, CT, temple, as it would be called, will serve Mormons living within an hour-and-a-half drive. Currently those wishing to visit a temple or hold a ceremony at one must drive to either Boston or New York, the sites of the two nearest temples.
More traffic on Route 4?
One resident said she was concerned about adding traffic to the already congested Route 4.
“I’m against any development in this area,” said Marie Lavendier, suggesting the church build elsewhere.
But during a two-hour presentation Nielsen made with traffic and site engineers, a land surveyor and a landscape architect, he said the temple’s impact on Route 4 traffic would be negligible.
The temple is not similar in use to a church building, which local Mormons also have in Canton; large congregations don’t meet at the temple. Instead, small groups visit throughout the weekend, with the greatest amount of traffic on Friday evening and all day Saturday, Nielsen explained. Temples are closed on Sundays and Mondays.
He presented a chart of expected usage. Building usage is anticipated in two-hour slots spanning weekday mornings and afternoons, with about 44 people per slot.
But the highest usage would be about 75 vehicles per hour, coming around 5 p.m. Saturdays.
“Our finding was that we believe the temple will have no significant impact on traffic in the area and we believe your [town] engineering department has essentially agreed,” concluded Fred Greenburg, the traffic engineer who presented the study.
The church would pursue an improvement to the area, Greenburg said. It would add left-hand-turn lanes going in both directions to ease traffic flow into Devonwood and Melrose Drive at the light. No widening of the road would be required, just simply restriping.
The Promise of a New Road
In proposing the project to the town, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had discussed building half of a road that would run parallel to Route 4 along the Farmington River. The road would be a new town road, built at the expense of developers, that would open up access to the land along the river, and to its potential development.
The church planned to build half of the road, with Peter Fishman, of , who owns the 11-acre property and the Greenbriar office property on Bridgewater Drive (across from the ), volunteering to construct the other half and connect Bridgewater to Melrose.
Members of the Town Plan and Zoning Commission have asked Fishman for a complete master plan of the development he is considering. He has said a major traffic study and other work will have to be done before he submits the plan.
And Wednesday Fishman hedged a little on the plan, worrying some commission members.
“Last week we approved the Goddard School and now you’re asking us to approve this thing and there has not been a presentation on what’s going in between and how the two properties would work together. We’re hoping Peter could provide some insight on what the plan would be if we approved the whole thoroughfare,” Commissioner Bill Stanford said.
Fishman said that the road would cost $1.5 million to install and he wanted to ensure it would be worth it. Commissioner Barbara Brenneman said she was concerned the road wouldn’t get built.
Timeline and Next Steps
Nielsen asked the commission not to close a public hearing on the matter because the issue will be back before the Inland Wetland and Watercourses and Conservation Commission tonight. The temple application was continued from May 7.
The hearing will continue until June 19.
For the temple application to be approved, the commission would have to grant a change of zoning for two parcels. One is where the former Whitman Restaurant — now an office building — now stands and the other where a house was knocked down in 2011 to make room for the , now set to be built on Bridgewater. In the 1980s, Nielsen explained, the parcels were changed from residential to commercial. Farmington only allows religious use in residential zones.
Should the project be approved, Nielsen said the church would hold a ceremonial groundbreaking in September, with two years of construction likely.
For more information about the proposed temple, click here.