Tooele residents thrilled about temple despite social media backlash

Here is an artistic rendering of the Deseret Peak Utah Temple, previously known as the Tooele Valley Utah Temple. Originally the Church announced a temple site near Highway 36 in rural Erda, along with plans to build a residential community around the temple lot. After facing opposition, the temple location was changed. (Church Newsroom)

President Russell M. Nelson stood at the pulpit in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. Thousands of people watched him speak through the worldwide broadcast of General Conference in April 2019, when he announced plans to build eight more temples across the world, including one in Tooele Valley.

An audible gasp was heard inside the massive auditorium, as members reacted to yet another temple to be built within a 25-mile radius of Salt Lake City.

In early 2020, all three Tooele County commissioners agreed; a temple for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be built in Erda, Utah. Tooele County commissioner Kendall Thomas said his constituents also supported the temple plans.

“The Church was wonderful being involved with us,” Thomas said. “They did a well-planned community with big parks and walking fields.”

Originally the Church announced a temple site near Highway 36 in rural Erda, along with plans to build a residential community around the temple lot. Thomas explained that the Church would purchase a five-acre lot and build a high-density area of condominiums.

The temple in Tooele was originally located in Erda, a rural town in Tooele County. The Church planned to build a residential community around the temple site. (Graphic by Allie Richael)

Just when everything seemed to be going smoothly, a bit of backlash on social media caused the Church to change its plans and relocate the temple. The Church posted its plans for a “walkable, sustainable, high-quality residential community” surrounding the temple site on Twitter on May 5, 2020.

Some social media users fought these plans. Comments on the Church’s post about the residential community included “WHY?” and a picture of a dragon destroying the Salt Lake City Temple. A comment from @JennyZapta said “Single-family homes are not sustainable, nor are lawns.”

The Tooele Transcript Bulletin shared an article on Facebook on March 27, 2020 describing the building plans. A comment from Deb Doubek saying “There goes Erda!” followed by two sad emoticons received four replies from people sharing her sentiment. Ryan Willden commented “I disagree with their housing plans. 4500 sq foot lots in Erda??? Wow…” Willden’s comment received three more replies agreeing with him.

Stockton resident Ruth Sagers said she saw some backlash against the residential community on social media. While she felt excited about the temple site, Sagers also said, “I understand how residents of Erda might not want a densely-populated community in their area.”

Michelle Barker has lived in Tooele for 35 years. She said the discussions over a residential community divided residents and Church members in the area. “I saw tons of things posted about the temple site from people who were members and who weren’t,” Barker said.

Barker said she was excited about the plans to build homes around the temple, although she never expressed her feelings publicly. “I never posted about it because I know posting on social media is never going to change anyone’s mind,” she said.

Citizens opposed a rezoning that would have allowed construction of the residential community around the temple. A citizen referendum in 2020 aimed at prohibiting a rezone of the land was never voted on because the Church withdrew its plan first. Thomas believes this referendum would have been voted down had it come to fruition.

The sponsors’ argument against the rezone said “Higher density housing with as many as 12 homes per acre has no place in Erda. Currently, roads are too congested, schools are overcrowded, property taxes continue to rise, and the water table is not recharging fast enough.”

The Church has faced opposition when building other temples in the past, but the kind of backlash that arose over the Tooele Valley temple plans hasn’t been seen in Utah before. According to Roger Minert’s article Spires and Sycamores, temple construction plans received pushback in Tokyo, Boston and Denver. Minert said construction of the temple in Brigham City caused citizens to protest the removal of sycamore trees on the land.

Yet the Church changed its plans and the name of the Tooele temple. The now Deseret Peak Temple will be built in Tooele, just a few miles north of the previous location. Construction is underway after the groundbreaking on May 15, 2021. The Church has not stated any new plans for a residential community up to this point. According to the Church Newsroom press release, the three-story temple will be approximately 70,000 square feet. A new 20,000-square-foot meetinghouse will also be built on the site, located at 2400 N. 400 West.

No firm completion date has been announced.

The new Deseret Peak Temple will be built in Tooele, a few miles north of the original temple site. (Graphic by Allie Richael)

“I thought it was very understanding of Church authorities to change the temple site,” Sagers said. “They saw that a large part of the community was upset, and they did not want to cause further contention.”

“I think it’s a better location, personally,” Thomas said of the new temple site. “Wherever it’s built, it will be beautiful.”

According to Thomas, county commissioners were no longer involved in the temple construction once locations changed. Tooele City Mayor Debbie Winn said in a statement that the city “…will be working closely with the construction team in the building of the temple. We will continue our work with permits, bonding and other building items until the temple is completed.”

Winn said she and other Tooele residents are, “thrilled with the site of the temple being moved to Tooele City.” The temple will be a beautiful asset to the city and increase the value of homes in the area, she said.

Sagers said she currently drives for one hour or more to reach the nearest temple. She is thrilled to have the Deseret Peak temple built near her home. “Having a temple in our valley will be a great asset to the community and I cannot wait for it to be finished.”

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