PROVO -- After four months of fighting a proposed nine-story building at the LDS Church's Missionary Training Center in Provo, neighborhood chairman Paul Evans, who has spearheaded the opposition, buckled to pressure from the church and is bowing out.
Evans sent an explanation in an e-mail letter to Gary McGinn, director of Provo city's Community Development department. The Herald obtained a copy through a request under GRAMA, the state's open records law.
"On Monday June 25, 2012, I received an invitation from a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ecclesiastical leader relayed from a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, the second-highest governing body of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," Evans wrote in the email. He asked that his name be removed from all documents connected to the issue.
Evans is an employee of church-owned BYU, which is the property owner of record for the MTC.
"The invitation was to support the decision of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to build a 9-story building at the Provo Missionary Training Center," Evans wrote. "I accept the invitation."
The "invitation" came to Evans two days before the Provo planning commission recommended to the municipal council that it reject a request for a zone amendment that would limit building height at the MTC and other areas in a P.F., or public facility, zone.
Evans, along with a committee of people in the Pleasant View neighborhood, wrote the proposed amendment.
A similar invitation has now been extended to church members in the MTC area who have objected to the proposed tall building as being incompatible with the neighborhood and a violation of promises made when the MTC was approved in the 1970s.
That represents a shift in what church leaders had maintained was a purely secular matter.
On Sunday in the sacrament meeting of the Pleasant View First Ward -- the LDS ward nearest the MTC -- stake president Chris Randall read a statement from the pulpit that he said was a message relayed from Elder L. Whitney Clayton, area representative of the church for east Provo.
Ward members in attendance at the meeting said that Randall, in a tearful delivery, said the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency had carefully and prayerfully considered the issue of growth and development at the MTC and had decided that the 9-story building should be built.
According to church members in attendance, Randall then delivered what he said was an "invitation" to the congregation to "sustain" the leaders in their decision.
The shift to an ecclesiastical appeal in a formal church meeting -- including the invitation -- is in sharp contrast to Randall's earlier statements to numerous residents. Earlier, he said repeatedly that building height on the MTC campus was purely a secular matter and that people were free to act according to individual conscience without fear of repercussions on their church standing.
But one ward member who asked not to be identified pointed to the bind a member of the church might face in pursuing a personal opinion on a secular matter when it contradicts what the church wants to do.
"To refuse an invitation to sustain the brethren would be difficult," the member said.
In March, several residents sent a letter to LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson advising him of promises made when the MTC was built. They were promised that no buildings would be taller than five stories, they said. In response to that, leaders advised Randall -- and he then conveyed to members -- that such concerns are of a secular nature, and the issues are for Provo city to discuss.
Lorie Johnson, who is stepping in to fill the void left by Evans, also was in the church meeting on Sunday.
"Everyone was left with a sense this was an ecclesiastical issue, when we were told previously it was secular," Johnson said. "How does it change midstream?"
Questions about the shift were posed to a member of the church's public relations department. Later, an email under the name of church spokesman Scott Trotter, who was out of the office on Thursday, confirmed that "local church leadership reiterated the church's desire to construct the building in support of its missionary efforts."
Johnson said that since the Sunday meeting, the committee has decided not to send a petition with names of their neighbors to the church leadership and city officials.
"We recognize this is an incredibly hard decision for those who previously signed the petition," she said. "This is now their private decision and I won't put them in this position."
Johnson said while it is extremely emotional for individuals on both sides she is willing to continue to ask to be heard by church decision makers in Salt Lake City.
"That's all we've ever wanted, is to have a say in what happens around us," Johnson said.
She asked whether the neighborhood could now ever oppose anything proposed by BYU or the church.
"It is critical for the Pleasant View neighborhood. We are surrounded on three sides by BYU," she said.
From the beginning, the issues of a nine-story building looming over a long-established neighborhood has been an emotionally charged issue. However, as early as a neighborhood meeting held in March with church and MTC leaders, residents were invited to pursue their own course of action as they were told it was considered a secular, not an ecclesiastical decision.
In his email resigning from issues connected to the MTC, Evans wrote, "I have withdrawn myself from the committee that initiated both the ordinance text amendment and the appeal to the board of adjustments." He asked that his contact information be changed to Johnson's. He told the Herald that he will continue to serve as neighborhood chair, just not on this matter.
Evans concluded his letter by outlining his concerns with the city about future development scheduled by BYU in P.F. zones. He asked for more participation as such development will impact adjacent neighborhoods.
"When there is a proposed change adjacent to residential property, a threshold for public participation is needed. The public facility zone has the least opportunity for public participation compared with every other zone in Provo City," Evans wrote.
CORRECTION: The original headline and article incorrectly made reference to a letter to neighborhood chairman Paul Evans. There was no formal letter to Evans. The LDS Church did communicate with Evans, but verbally through a local stake president.