CARROLLWOOD — Dozens of Carrollwood Village residents filled the Hillsborough County Commission hearing room Monday in an effort to block a church's plan to build a cemetery in their community.
St. Paul Catholic Church is seeking a zoning change that would allow construction of a cemetery on about 3 acres of the church's 19-acre campus.
"It's a real big deal and an inappropriate use,'' Scott Katz, a lawyer and Carrollwood Village homeowner, said Monday. More than 300 residents signed petitions or wrote letters to county government opposing the cemetery, he said.
Attorneys for residents, the church and the Diocese of St. Petersburg made points and answered questions Monday before James Scarola, a zoning hearing master charged with advising county commissioners on the request. The commission is scheduled to vote on the rezoning Aug. 13.
Traffic problems top the list of objections from residents. Stall Road, a narrow but busy feeder street into Carrollwood Village from Dale Mabry Highway, already is congested during big church events and even regular services, they say.
Residents worry that cemetery traffic from funeral processions and memorial services will make already-congested Stall Road even worse. Homeowner groups contend that the growth in activities and services at St. Paul have already resulted in more drivers from outside the neighborhood who disregard traffic signals and homeowners' property.
"The church's continued expansion in general has been a detriment to our neighborhood,'' says a flier handed out by a homeowners organization. "Many parishioners are not respectful of the residents who live on Stall Road and Stillwater Terrace: During the many events and activities held at the church, they park all over the right-of-ways on those homeowners' properties."
Last month, the church quietly downsized plans for the cemetery. The original application called for rezoning 18 acres of the 19-acre church property, enough for the remains of more than 7,000 bodies buried in graves and people whose bodies were cremated. But amid rising opposition from Carrollwood Village residents, the church and diocese amended their rezoning application with the county to include just 3 acres.
The church hasn't undertaken a site plan for the 3 acres and won't know the number of graves and above ground-structures for ashen remains, said Joseph DiVito, attorney for the diocese. "We decided: Let's shrink it down. Doing the whole 18 acres was never our intent," he said.
St. Paul is one of the five largest Catholic churches in the Tampa Bay area, with 16,600 parishioners, said Frank Murphy, communications director for the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.
A cemetery in Carrollwood Village would give local parishioners and families more opportunity to visit the remains of loved ones, says Murphy. The closest Catholic cemetery now is located in Pinellas County. Only current parishioners will be buried at St. Paul, Murphy said last month.
Attorneys for the diocese and the church said their requested zoning restricts certain kinds of development the current zoning allows. Such "down zonings'' rarely attract much neighborhood opposition. Under existing zoning the church could build an assisted living center or a day-care facility on the site.
But the zoning classification the church is requesting allows cemeteries where bodies are buried underground. That's exactly why the church wants the change, said Kelly Overfield, an attorney and Carrollwood Village resident.
Michael Horner, an attorney for the church, said the cemetery would host 50 to 100 burials annually. "Traffic is not an issue," he said.
Residents have other objections. Homeowners worry their property values will fall, which in turn will drive down the community's tax base.