LDS Church Demolition Vehemently Opposed – November 18, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

A joint visit by the Historic and Design Review Committee and Historic Landmarks Committee to the neglected LDS Meeting House was featured in the "Hellholes of Arcata" series in the July 21, 2010 edition.

 Note: Those wishing for more raw data and back story on the LDS Meeting House issues can find it here. – Ed.

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

A STREET – The City will approve a building permit for demolition of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) Meeting House on A Street, the Planning Commission was told last week.

The LDS Church hasn’t used the moldy building since the 1980s 2004 and has wished to tear it down since 2001, when it first applied for a demolition permit. The church has said that it doesn’t need the building and that repairs necessary to restore it to safe use would be prohibitively expensive.

Opinions varied as to whether the building was sufficiently distinguished historically or architecturally to merit preservation. The LDS Church said it was nothing special, but local historians and preservationists disagreed.

The LDS Meeting House. Photos by KLH | Eye

But all of that became irrelevant Oct. 28, when the LDS church withdrew its previous demolition permit and submitted a non-discretionary or “ministerial” permit application which removes the demolition debate from City review. The basis for the non-discretionary status is California Government Code Section 37361, which exempts buildings owned by religious institutions from being designated historical, which would protect the building under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

That immunity from historical designation renders moot a ruling by the Historic Design Review Commission (HDRC). It had recommended the City Council designate the LDS Meeting Hall a local historic landmark and that the Planning Commission deny the previously discretionary permit.

In a staff report for last week’s Planco meeting Community Development Director Larry Oetker said that his department and the City Attorney have reviewed the new application and the law cited by the LDS Church to exempt it from discretionary review, and confirmed that it does apply. Hence the Planco agenda item was informational only.

This decision did not sit well with local historic preservationists, who immediately contested the applicability of the law.

Citizen Lisa Brown called the decision “very troubling,” and said that the demolition could set a bad precedent whereby those wishing to demolish buildings could “skirt public process.”

Brown contended that the project hadn’t changed, just the bureaucratic process that would make it possible. “The neighbors are being shut out,” she said. “If there are environmental impacts to the community, then the community needs to be involved as per CEQA.”

She asked that granting of the demolition permit be delayed until the State Historic preservation Office could make a ruling on an application to list the building as a State Historic Landmark. The church has objected to the proposed designation, and Oetker said that it is irrelevant.

Brown also suggested that the Planning Commission appeal the demolition permit so that the matter could be considered by the City Council with public testimony “to create balance that is representative of our community.”

“I have been watching for many years, and I have never seen anything as absurd as this,” Brown concluded.

Historic consultant Kathleen Stanton also objected to the demolition recommendation, calling it “very, very troubling.” She said that there are un-considered environmental consequences to the demolition.

Stanton said that all demolition permits in Arcata are discretionary.  She didn’t understand why a building permit was being issued to un-build a building. “That doesn’t make sense to me,” she said.

She also said that the church’s opposition doesn’t invalidate a protective historic designation.

“That’s a fallacy that the City is working from,” she said.

On Nov. 11, the Brandt-Hawley Law Group of Glen Ellen, Calif. submitted a letter to Oetker on behalf of a group known as the Friends of the LDS Meetinghouse.

The interior of the building is wracked with mold. It is located over a natural spring, and has been closed up tight for years.

The letter announces an intent to appeal the City’s decision to grant the demolition permit on grounds that “the approval violates the California Environmental Quality Act and the Arcata Municipal Code, and is inconsistent with the General Plan.”

The letter, signed by attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley, contests the exemption on several grounds.

It states that in order to qualify for the religious exemption, the LDS Church must determine in a public forum that preventing it from demolishing the building would cause economic hardship.

“The Church has not provided a current documented claim of hardship and cannot claim the protections of 37361 until it does so,” states the letter.

Another of the Friends’ group’s objections is that the demolition permit is just a small part of a larger project which the church is “segmenting” to gain piecemeal approval, depriving the City of a review of the overall project.

The letter cites CEQA law stating that “the whole of an action, which has the potential for resulting in either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment.”

“Demolition of a building is never the entire project; it is the first step to new development,” the letter continues. “The LDS Church intends to remove asphalt and significantly grade and re-landscape its site if a demolition permit is granted, as a precursor to sale for a six-lot housing project. Every reasonable indication is that if it is allowed to demolish the historic Meetinghouse it will then return to the City for the additional project permits it originally requested, beginning with the long-pursued grading.”

The Friends also contend that removal of the building could cause environmental impacts related to drainage, plus traffic and other unforeseen consequences.

Concludes the letter, “This appeal will be supplemented with additional evidence and argument at the Planning Commission and City Council. The building permit must be set aside and the entire LDS Meetinghouse site project must be subjected to CEQA review. The application of Government Code section 37361 has not been justified under these facts. Additional information may be brought forward by the Friends up until the close of the public hearing preceding final project approval at the City Council.

The letter was forwarded by former HDRC member Marc Delany, who said the Friends of the LDS Meetinghouse meets mostly via e-mail. He can be reached at

Mold streaks the interior walls of the LDS Meeting House, with the fuzzy sheen coating even brick walls.


35 Responses to “LDS Church Demolition Vehemently Opposed – November 18, 2011”

  1. Jonathan

    Kevin, have you seen the mold?

    When you color your description with “…hasn’t used the moldy building since the 1980s… ” I am curious if you are just repeating words from the city or actually seen the mold and that reflects the facts you report. Mold is one of the issues that has been raised, that it is not as dire as stated.

  2. We’ve published pictures of the mold-streaked walls in the paper. Go up there and look in the window. If you don’t believe your eyes, there have also been tests of air samples of the interior which confirm the presence of different strains of mold. These are in the City file along with much other documentation of the building’s issues.

  3. I just added a molderific pic to the story. It’s at the bottom; scroll down. As I said, you can go there, look through the window and see it for yourself.

  4. buttnugget

    The building was used up until the one in mckinleyville opened in the late 1990’s.

  5. Brian

    The writer of this story didnt even have the facts correctly. I remember in the mid 90’s when it was used as LDS single Ward. Actually Not sure why church would get rid of it, I would use at as an opportunity as something else good for the church use.

  6. Marc Delany

    Unfortunately, for the applicant, “mold” does not justify the removal of a building, there is more mold outside the building. The church hired consultants over 10 years to review the “mold” claim. The church’s consultants disagree with the churches conclusion that the building should be demolished. Representing that mold requires a building in virtually pristine condition be demolished to make room for 6 “view lots” is absurd, and not justified by the applicant, the law (CA37361), or the city’s interests in ANY building in the city. The LDS is requested to follow the same process any other applicant would have to. Settle law upholds this.

    The Applicant and the city’s development director should stop looking for shortcuts and simply follow the laws there to protect them and the community. The building is well worth reuse, and would net the owners more, if they would sell intact. The applicant, for religious reasons, prefers to demolish the structure. If anyone is interested in purchasing, please contact the applicant, see for yourself.

    As a “mold’ expert (residential hazard reduction specialist for such properties) I read the three reports. They are available for anyone to read.. they are about 4 pages long. Read for yourself, will take 10 minutes.

    The city is correctly requesting and investigating the Director of Community Developments action. They are not confined to this applicant. Several other properties have also been passed through without CEQA review, ad the Director intends to continue this practice.

    “Vehemently” opposed to unilaterally actions by directors (city employees) operating against our city’s Land Use Code (L.U.C.), California laws (CEQA) and vehemently for an open public process, as required. You should be too.

    Marc Delany
    928 899-8531

    (I’ll respond to any commenter using a real name)

  7. Thank you for the correction. Had we read our own previous news coverage, we would have known that the building enjoyed some use until 2004.

  8. buttnugget

    I remember signs being up everywhere saying there’s asbestos in the walls too. That might be another reason it has taken this long to make a decision on it. I loved going to church there. It has a pretty view of the bay.

  9. Jonathan

    Thats not black mold even, the toxic kind. Most mold you can use a little bleach and water and you are good to go… this is some kind of demon mold that needs the building to be destroyed?

  10. That is what is visible through one of the few non-opaque windows. It is my understanding, from reporting on the similarly affected grow houses, that any mold wouldn’t be confined to the outer surfaces of the walls.

    For more information look at the lab report and other info in the file.

  11. Ed Dart

    What makes this a “Historic Building” or even special?

  12. erl

    Let’s look at the REAL reason for the opposition to the project. If the LDS folks want to build a building, there is fanatical opposition. If they want to tear down a building, there is fanatical opposition. The logical conclusion is that the opposition to the project has nothing to do with the building, but rather opposition to WHATEVER the LDS church wants to do. Isn’t this called bigotry?

  13. erl

    Let’s look at the REAL reason for the opposition to the project. If the LDS folks want to build a building, there is fanatical opposition. If they want to tear down a building, there is fanatical opposition. The logical conclusion is that the opposition to the project has nothing to do with the building, but rather opposition to WHATEVER the LDS church wants to do.

  14. This is a really weird story. Usually Mormons receive this kind of opposition when we are planning on building a temple.

    The above article states:

    “Demolition of a building is never the entire project; it is the first step to new development,” the letter continues. “The LDS Church intends to remove asphalt and significantly grade and re-landscape its site if a demolition permit is granted, as a precursor to sale for a six-lot housing project. Every reasonable indication is that if it is allowed to demolish the historic Meetinghouse it will then return to the City for the additional project permits it originally requested, beginning with the long-pursued grading.”

    “The Friends also contend that removal of the building could cause environmental impacts related to drainage, plus traffic and other unforeseen consequences.”

    Is that why there is such opposition that the Church will return with a proposal to build a temple there? Is that the “unforseen consequences?” Whatever happened to private property rights in America? Why such opposition to keep from tearing down a building? In “Proposition 8” country, it seems like they’d welcome one less Mormon church.

    This is a curious story. The Society for the Prevention of Anti-Mormonism will be keeping its eyes on this one. There’s more to this than meets the eye.

  15. Justice Beaver

    Another shining example of the hypocrisy of the “It’s a free country” progressives of the People’s Republic. They demand to be able to do whatever they want on their property and demand to be able to tell you what you can, and cannot, do on your own property.

  16. stephen

    Why is a building from the 1980’s historical? And why does anyone non-Mormon care about this building.

    California is such a crap hole. If it isn’t one thing its another with people saying what you can do what you can say and how you do it. No doubt most of these people are apart of the occupy movement. They don’t have property to do anything good with so they have to tell someone else what to do with theirs.

  17. Jan

    It’s not special or historical, in my opinion. I think the neighborhood wants it to disappear. You can’t save every older building and make it a landmark. It doesn’t make economic sense, and I feel the community wants to move on.

  18. Todd

    Historical building from the 80’s, what a joke, tear it down and put in A sustainable buildt building

  19. john zimmerman

    This is the kind of stuff that earned this state the nickname of the state of the fruits & nuts–having no common sense, no concept of normalcy–accepting every form of abnormal, and rejecting normal as bigoted.

  20. We have to specialize in something, but as hyperbole and bombast were already taken, our choices were limited.

  21. STW

    I think the LDS Church should “gift” use and maintenance of the building to the group wanting to keep it while retaining any development rights to the underlying property. Once the group figures out that somebody else (the LDS Church) isn’t paying the bills for the building their minds would change rather quickly.

  22. Rocco

    Good for LDS. If a building is not being used and it’s too expensive to fix it up then the property owner can choose to demolish it. Screw HDRC. They just want to set a precedent to control every property and every building project in town. This big brick building is not particularly attractive and it’s downright creepy sitting there abandoned. HDRC is once again making a mockery of themselves trying to violate private property rights by calling a building from the 80’s historic.

  23. Stacey

    Would it be worth it to just bring in a mold removal company like Decon Pro Green (you can find them online). It’ll be so much cheaper than demolition. Plus, it was mentioned you don’t need the property, then you can sell it.

  24. john

    Did I read correctly that this chapel was built on top of a natural spring?
    How on earth did they get planning permission for it to be built in the first place?
    I haven’t seen any reason why the building is historically (or otherwise) significant – so what’s the problem? Let the land be converted into its highest and best use and get rid of the derelict.

  25. Yes, the chunk of land it is on is known as Spring Hill. The building was built before any of today’s environmental regs were in effect, or likely even thought of.

  26. OC Surfer

    With the nearest LDS Church in McKinleyville, it makes sense for the LDS Church to find a solution to keep the church in Arcata for members living in Arcata and students going to Humboldt State. As a Mormon myself, I hope Eureka Stake leaders see the light on this and keep or rebuild the building.

  27. Joel

    I live next to this building and strongly believe it should go. I have only been living next to it for some 4 months now, but it doesn’t take more than 5 minutes to tell the building is falling down, decaying, and was never much to look at to began with. Wouldn’t a park or a community garden or even just an empty lot be so much nicer??

  28. fk

    I grew up with a view of that building. Everyone I know in the neighborhood surrounding it beleieves it is an eyesore and should go. It is a cookie-cutter church design, and only has historical “value” because it was built mid 20th century. It is not architecturally interesting or unique. It is my understanding that no one wants to buy the property as is: it has design features which make it difficult to convert to other uses, and there is the mold problem, which even if cleaned will likely never go away. In my opinion, the historical preservationists have over-reached on this one. If they continue to cry wolf on undeserving buildings, then they may not have support when there really is something special to save.

  29. Molly Coddle

    Private property rights are so 1980’s. This is the People’s Republic of California now. No rights for you, only the ‘community’ matters. Get with the program or you will be re-educated by the likes of “Citizen Lisa Brown.” Or should that be Comrade Lisa Brown?

  30. Marc Delany

    Hi Jonathan Duncan,

    You should be very proud of the organization’s commitment to building quality, lasting structures. I think the LDS presents a work ethic not so common everywhere, in their buildings. The quality of the work is superior and the brick and metal meeting house, in Arcata projects a sense of permanence, somewhat in contrast with the surrounding, all wooden community. A bit ironic it would be chosen for demolition so prematurely.

    I am a specialist in “adaptive reuse” of buildings. I have had extraordinary experience with the successful renovations of many different and similar buildings. (hundreds, several churches and synagogues). I assure you, this one too can be reused…. several schools would love to gain the use, there are few similarly suitable properties most places. They have the financial ability to carry the project. The technology required is certain. What is lacking is the desire on the part of the local LDS agents, it seems, to allow any other use of the building, other than as an LDS run meetinghouse.

    Asbestos cannot cause headaches. Sometime (but doubtfully) mold… which is easily fixed BTW… Most headaches from buildings heated with “forced air” (like this one) are from improper combustion producing CO… carbon monoxide (makes you sleepy too). That was likely the original problem, as there are (unusually) 7 separate furnaces in the meetinghouse….a problem also easily corrected.

    This building, with its mold, asbestos, CO or other conditions can be restored to 125% of what it once was, easily. I have not been able to get to the Bishop in charge of this real estate (in SLC) direct contact information. I’m afraid the local agents do not have the skill set necessary to understand the problem and solution.

    I don’t understand why the LDS management would be willing to, self reportedly, lose a million dollars to demolish a very useful, very needed structure in our community, when repairs and alterations would be far less and net a small profit.

    I hope you do not mind, I am forwarding your letter to friends and our city council who would like to see the building remain a part of our community, for as long as possible. Yes, the over whelming majority of Arcata’s community voted to try to retain the building, a very few controlling the decision oppose.

    We will see what we shall see.

    Thank you for you expression of support for the meetinghouse. I hope you get to see it as an active and essential part of Arcata again one day.


    Marc Delany

    On Thu, Dec 1, 2011 at 6:16 PM, Jonathan Duncan wrote:
    Dear Marc,

    I caught this article off of a facebook post. I attended that building from 1999-2000. I had great experiences there, and seeing the pictures posted in the Arcata Eye stirred some nostalgia. And some regret. I remember people would often complain about getting headaches during church, and there were always discussions about things like asbestos and mold.

    The reason I chose to write to you is to thank you for your interest in preserving the building. I can assure you, there are plenty of LDS folks who would love to see that building preserved and even restored. Many of us encouraged local leader repeatedly to get it re-opened over the last 10 years. Each time they made any kind of concerted push, it came back to cost. The LDS Church has high standards when it comes to building code- if fixing this building could be done, I feel they would have done so. However, the small size of the local LDS community couldn’t justify the work, as a larger newer building was completed in McKinleyville when the Arcata building was shut down people could attend. I suppose the slightly tongue-in-cheek solution would be having more LDS members in Arcata. Larger numbers could justify a building there.

    This preservation petition comes from a line of requests. Many of us loved that building. However, I just can’t foresee a way to have it kept. I do wish you the best in your pursuit in as much as I too would love to see that building restored. I recommend you contact the LDS Church reps, whoever they may be, and have a sit-down talk. I wish the community could support a restoration, but we both know the current financial situation in the county. In the end, you, me, and a lot of others may have come to grips with losing the building to progress.

    Good luck,

    Jonathan Duncan
    BYU Graduate Student
    Provo, Ut

  31. Marc Delany

    Sorry there is so much mis information circulating about this building. That would be due to the “manufactured consent” of the local planning “cabal” and those adjacent neighbors that, reasonably, have tired of the blight and nuisance. Restoration and reuse of the building is easily accomplished. Is there and adult here in this community tat actually believes that “mold” is a reason to tear down a brick building?

    The “greenest” building is the one standing…. Do you all also believe we can continue to destroy perfectly fine structures without severe environmental consequence? Have you noticed there are no Redwoods left?.. I hope the negative commenters above live to see the consequences of thoughtless development in Arcata… The community as a whole opposed the demolition for cause, great cause. Read the record, then comment.

    If you use your real names, and email me you comments, I would gladly give you the public comment that was “quashed” by the powers that be in Arcata. It is seriously funny that those manipulating our open and public process would not be castigated above, while those that simply speak openly, in the community’s expressed interests are. I suspect the comments above reflect a lot of self serving interests, or people would identify themselves. The demolition discussion was to be an open public process…. don’t you all want and open, public process?

    Marc Delany

  32. John Pack Lambert

    The Church no longer needs the building. They built one elsewhere that better meets their needs. The Church will best advance its overall mission of building buildings where they are needed by leveling this building and selling the lot. This is a more economical use than refurbishing the building. Churches should be allowed to disconnect from buildings in ways that benefit them.

  33. John, what consideration would you give the host community regarding these decisions about its composition, made by people who live elsewhere?


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.