Proposed LDS seminary discussed at Parkside meeting
ANTHEM – Anthem residents debated the pros and cons of an LDS seminary proposed for a Parkside home at a special meeting of the Parkside Board of Directors on March 17. About 150 residents attended, and multiple residents spoke at the meeting. The Parkside Board did not vote on the issue, as the meeting ran out of time but will be voting on the request at their next meeting.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is asking the Parkside HOA for a variance to allow them to use the house, located at 3605 W Memorial Dr., as an LDS seminary. The house will not have a full-time resident. The church also is requesting approval from Maricopa County. The seminary would operate during similar hours to Boulder Creek High School; students would attend religious instructional classes at the seminary through released-time during school hours. Currently, about 120 students would be attending the LDS seminary, if approved.
Maricopa County representatives attended the meeting to provide information on the county’s involvement with the process. Kevin Tyne, Chief of Staff to District 3 Supervisor Andy Kunasek, noted that Kunasek had been going to attend the meeting but was “called away at the last second.”
“Supervisor Kunasek has reviewed it and seems very positively inclined,” Tyne said, adding that Kunasek was “very interested to hear all the comments.”
Minimal steps remain for the LDS seminary proposal to receive approval from Maricopa County. Originally, the LDS church was requesting a Special Use Permit from the county for the property on Memorial Dr. At the March 17 meeting, Maricopa County Deputy Director of Planning & Development Darren Gerard stated that the property does not need a Special Use Permit.
“No special zoning is required,” Gerard said. He added that, for public assembly use, the house must meet commercial construction permit code, which entails doors opening outward instead of inward and some changes to the home’s interior.
“If they meet the code, this is just an administrative process,” Gerard said.
LDS church representative Terry Bradshaw also presented information at the March 17 meeting, noting, as at the Feb. 18 Board meeting when the house had first been discussed, that the church is seeking a seminary location within a 5-minute walk of Boulder Creek. He reiterated that students would not be parking at the seminary and also stated that those attending would be students, not missionaries, and would not be proselyting.
Bradshaw stated that the church would apply for an exemption on property taxes but that the church plans to pay the HOA assessments on the home.
According to Bradshaw, the Parkside home would be used strictly for religious instruction as an LDS seminary and would not be used at night, over weekends, or over school breaks. He added that the church may look into obtaining security for the home, since it will be known to be empty at certain times.
In FAQs distributed at the meeting, the LDS church states that only a full-time teacher will be parking at the house. The house would have only driveway parking available, as the church plans to remodel the house and use the garage for classroom space.
Parkside Board of Directors Treasurer Doug Sutherland asked Bradshaw if the church would agree to abide by specific stipulations in regards to the time of day the seminary would be used.
“If we were to grant the variance for the use of this, would you be willing to accept those kinds of provisions as part of the receipt of that grant?” Sutherland asked, noting that the provisions could include a stipulation that the house would not be used before 7 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
Bradshaw replied that the seminary might try to do “zero hour” classes, meaning students would be attending before school.
Multiple residents offered public comments at the meeting, expressing concern over traffic, safety issues, and the precedent set if the variance was approved. Other commenters offered support for the proposal.
“My concern is from a community standpoint: what does this start?” a commenter asked, referring to the precedent set.
Parkside Board president Loren Linscott noted that the variance in this case is from the “disuse” of the home in that it will not be used as a dwelling and said that he was “not sure there are going to be a lot of other businesses coming in wanting to run a business with the residential zoning.”
“I asked the same question,” Sutherland replied to the commenter, saying that conditions placed on this variance could be applicable to any other application for a variance.
“We as a board need to think about what conditions would be applicable,” he said.
Another commenter spoke to the precedent set, saying she had participated on boards herself in the past and knew from experience that once something was changed, it could cause problems.
“What if we had the church of Satan come in?” she said. “I have nothing against the LDS church, but as homeowners we bought into residential only, and I feel it should remain that.”
“If you open the door, you can’t close it,” said another commenter. “I think this would be a good thing for the young people, but I’m not so sure this is the right location for it.”
Emergency situations at the school were discussed. A church representative stated that in the case of a school lockdown, the school would call the seminary and students would lock down there, as well.
Several commenters brought up potential depreciation of nearby property values; Linscott noted that Board had been researching property values near other LDS seminaries and had seen no depreciation in home values.
After listening to a list of the interior construction the house would need for conversion to a seminary, Board Vice President Bettye Ruff commented, “Sounds as though this is a home that would not be sold for a person who wanted to live in it,” noting that if the home were resold, a buyer would have to make an investment to make it a livable family home again. She asked church representatives what impact this would have to the homes around the seminary. The church’s master broker responded that the church does have to sell their assets at a lower price than they bought them due to renovations.
Further commenters expressed support for the variance.
“We need to take into consideration our young people who have the desire to serve others than themselves,” said a resident.
The last commenter also expressed support, saying the kids involved “really want to make the most of their time.”
“I think that we’re assuming that teenagers are ornery, and I’m here to say – most of the teenagers in this community are amazing,” she said. “We need to help them and give them opportunities to keep them amazing.”
This meeting will be followed by a vote on the issue. The vote date and result will be published when available.