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Orange County

Mormons Get an OK on Newport Steeple

June 27, 2002|WILLIAM LOBDELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Mormons' quest to build a temple with a towering steeple in residential Newport Beach was bolstered Wednesday by a favorable city report that concludes the 12-story-high spire fits with the building's architecture and won't require special approval.

The size of the steeple, topped by a golden statue of a trumpet-blowing angel, has angered some nearby residents who fear it will dominate their hillside skyline and decrease property values.

Opponents of the temple's design have set up a Web site with computer-enhanced photos to show how the spire will obstruct their views, but they said they haven't seen the just-released environmental impact report and couldn't comment on its specifics.

Mormon officials said they were pleased with the report.

"Despite nearly six months of extensive analysis," the study showed that nothing about the project "would result in any significant adverse environmental impact," said Weatherford T. Clayton, president of the church's Newport Beach stake, in a written statement.

Since announcing plans 14 months ago to build Orange County's first Mormon temple, officials with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have agreed to a number of concessions involving the 17,500-square-foot building on Bonita Canyon Drive near MacArthur Boulevard.

Lighting has been reduced by 50% and will be turned off by 11 p.m., unlike most Mormon temples, which are lighted through the night. The exterior of the art deco building has been switched from stark white to earth tones. And the church has agreed to landscape with mature trees.

But soaring steeples are an important symbol in Mormon theology, and only the president-prophet of the church can authorize those height reductions, an unlikely event. Newport Beach city codes exempt churches from the area's 50-foot height restriction.

For Mormons, a temple with gleaming white interiors bathed in natural sunlight serves as a bridge between heaven and Earth. Ceremonies such as weddings and baptisms take place at the temple, which is open only to members in good standing. Southern California Mormons participating in sacred rites now travel to Los Angeles or San Diego, where the area's only temples are located.

The spire, which rises 121 feet from the ground, symbolizes the Mormons' heavenly aspirations and "identifies the temple as a source of eternal blessings available to the faithful," Clayton said.

Regular services are held in meeting houses.

Residents and others have 45 days to review the city's report before the project will be considered by the Planning Commission.

Mormon officials originally hoped to break ground on the temple last spring, but community concerns slowed the process. A temple in Redlands is nearly half complete. Plans for both structures were announced on the same day in April 2001.

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