Church opposes member’s idea

Associated Press


The utopic communities envisioned by a wealthy Mormon businessman near religious landmarks in Utah and Vermont would feature small homes clustered around community gardens and focus on walkability to reduce the need for cars.

David Hall’s effort to build sustainable communities is years away from reality but took a hit this week when the Mormon church denounced his plans, modeled after church founder Joseph Smith’s vision from 1833. Hall is unfazed, vowing to press ahead with the developments that will welcome non-Mormons and urge people to consume less.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Christ of Latter-day Saints has concerns about the communities affecting existing neighborhoods and the longstanding relationships the religion has with those residents, spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement. The project is not associated with the church in any way, he said.

“The church makes no judgment about the scientific, environmental or social merits of the proposed developments,” Hawkins said. “However, for a variety of reasons, we are not in favor of the proposal.”

Hall said he’s not surprised because he believes church leaders are not forward-thinking and worry about their image. Their stance allows him to tout that his communities are not influenced by the church and not designed to be Mormon enclaves, he said.

“I’m not running for office, and I’m not trying to be a missionary, so I don’t care what people think,” Hall said. “I’m looking for long-term good.”

And long term it is – Hall’s plans are years away from reaching fruition in Utah and decades in Vermont. But neighbors in both states already have expressed concerns about the communities causing drastic changes.

The “Utopia in Vermont” plan calls for housing for 20,000 people, offices, gardens, 48 basketball courts and 48 Olympic-size swimming pools. It’s planned near a monument at the birthplace of Smith, the founder and first president of a religion that now counts 15 million members worldwide.

A community near church-owned Brigham Young University and the Missionary Training Center in Provo, south of Salt Lake City, would be much smaller. Hall owns some of the land already.

The project closest to happening is in a neighborhood in south Provo, where Hall has a warehouse and owns many homes. He plans to build a hotel and several hundred houses to test some of his concepts.

Hall’s foundation’s website shows conceptual designs for the communities he envisions. Narrow, three-story homes with rooftop gardens would be built wall to wall around large, community gardens. People could get around by electric public transit. Energy-efficient multiuse buildings would provide space for meetings and business.

He ultimately hopes to create an entire town with 50 diamond-shaped communities of 15,000 to 20,000 people each near an economic hub so residents could walk or take public transportation to work.