The Park County Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to meet Tuesday to continue a public hearing on the project, which has drawn both praise as a visionary expression of religious devotion, and criticism for its size, scope and location.
In a series of public meetings and private gatherings, debate about the project has touched on a wide range of hot-button issues, including land planning, taxes, traditional Western ranching and even religious freedom.
The stone monastery, to be built in a style dating back centuries, would house 40 men who are members of the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, a federally recognized religious order operating under the auspices of the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne.
Called The New Mount Carmel of America, the monastery would be built on the 2,500-acre Elk Meadow Ranch, traditionally used for raising cattle and sheep. The property, on Meeteetse Creek Road, is about seven miles from the nearest neighbor and 14 miles from Highway 120.
On behalf of the monks, the nonprofit New Mount Carmel Foundation has a contract to purchase the property from rancher Dave Grabbert. The foundation would build the monastery and donate it to the monks.
Joey Darrah, a Powell attorney representing the foundation, said during a public hearing Aug. 17 that the purchase contract expires Oct. 1, and that delaying a decision on the application for a special-use permit would kill a pending deal for the foundation to purchase the land.
“We’re on a very tight schedule here, and we can’t wait a month,” Darrah said, calling requests to postpone a decision for 30 days “a delay tactic.”
Darrah said opponents of the project are seeking to place unfair restrictions on his clients’ religious freedoms.
“We’re being objected to because this is a religious endeavor,” he said..