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Referendum over Tooele County Latter-day Saint development 'really close' to meeting signature goal

Posted at 10:24 PM, Aug 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-15 00:24:14-04

ERDA, Utah — The clock is ticking to gather signatures on a referendum in Tooele County over a proposed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints development surrounding a future temple.

Referendum sponsors say they are close to hitting their signature goal, but others are urging people not to sign or to even remove their names from the referendum.

The issue has become a sore spot in the community as people have divided into groups for and against the development.

On Friday evening, Allison Kip greeted Tooele residents across the street from Walmart. She and other referendum sponsors kicked their signature-gathering into high gear with less than 24 hours to go before the deadline.

"Hi! How are you guys?" she asked one couple, as they approached the red pop-up awning.

Signs surrounded the awning, covered in bright, bold letters that read: 'SIGN HERE,' and 'STOP HIGHER DENSITY REZONING.'

"So, you guys know what this is about?" Kip asked the couple.

"I read something online about the housing and stuff," the woman responded. Kip had a binder full of pictures, renderings and information ready to show.

In a nutshell, the referendum is about a proposed community development in Erda off of Highway 36, planned by a real estate affiliate of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Tooele County Commission approved rezoning the land to allow for higher density housing.

Right now, Erda is a rural community in between Stansbury Park and Tooele with mostly farm fields and homes on large lots.

Kip worries that this kind of development will turn Erda into a city.

"If this is allowed to happen, then all of Erda will be rezoned by other developers," she said. "So it's going to set a precedent."

The development is meant to surround the future Tooele Valley Utah Temple and includes single-family homes, a 55+ adult community, and open space, trails and parks.

The referendum only focuses on the zoning of the community development, not the temple itself. And Kip said they don't have any issues with a temple being built.

But Church members told FOX 13 that stake presidents have sent them letters explaining that both projects are closely tied together.

"This is one plan, that these two things go together. That the one is integral to the other," said Douglas Brent Rose, who received a letter from his stake president.

Rose even wrote a letter of his own to the community, urging people not to sign the referendum. He also asked those who already signed it to request to remove their signatures.

"If this goes to an election and it's voted down, then we have a really good chance of losing an opportunity and a really wonderful blessing in our valley," he said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent a statement to FOX 13 about that link between the projects.

"Since the temple and surrounding community complement and support each other in essential ways, a referendum to oppose the neighborhood development may ultimately delay or alter construction of the temple," wrote Richard Droubay, the temple groundbreaking chair.

The Church further wrote that the community will "contribute to essential utility infrastructure to serve the temple and help protect this sacred setting."

Kip said the temple can be built on the land as it is zoned now, and does not need the development in order to function.

"Legally, they are two separate things," she said. "If the Church chooses to tie them together, that is on the Church."

She and other referendum sponsors argue that this is not about faith. For them, it's about the legislative process.

"The majority of our sponsors are Church members. So it has nothing to do with the Church or the Mormon faith, for any of us," she said. "It has everything to do with protecting our rural community."

Sponsors and volunteers plan to gather signatures all day on Saturday — their last day. Kip said they are "really close" to meeting their goal.

They'll be stationed at the Tooele Home Depot, Walmart and State Liquor Store, as well as in Granstville at Maverik and on the corner of Durfee Road and 800 East.

Monday is the deadline to turn signatures in.