TARPON SPRINGS — A prominent local family whose request to build a lakefront mausoleum was denied by city commissioners is taking the battle to court.
In February, commissioners rejected plans for a 27-foot-wide above-ground crypt at Cycadia Cemetery proposed by longtime city residents William and Regina Planes.
In a petition filed last month in civil court, an attorney for the Planes said the city refused to participate in a mediation hearing to resolve the dispute.
"The Planes family has always been, and remains, willing to sit and peacefully resolve this thing, so their family can have a place to be," said attorney Justin Zinzow, who represents the family.
In the mediation request, Zinzow argued that commissioners didn't use the city's guidelines to make their decision. The criteria they used — including how the structure would affect others' view of the water — was irrelevant, he said.
Zinzow said his clients own the cemetery plots, and the city has "unfairly burden(ed)" their property.
But City Attorney Jim Yacavone said the rules that govern privately owned cemeteries are different than those that apply to municipally owned cemeteries, such as Cycadia.
"They have a deed, so they have a right to bury someone there, but it's not the same as ownership," he said.
In 2004, city commissioners signed off on the family's original proposal to build three private crypts, side-by-side, on the northern bank of Lake Cycadia.
In December 2007, the family submitted a revised request to the city. Instead of three separate mausoleums, they proposed one larger building to span the three plots. The single structure would allow various family members to be buried together under one roof, the Planes said.
Appearing before the commission in February, William Planes told the board that he and his wife, Regina, love Tarpon Springs and hope to "spend the rest of our lives in eternity here."
But city commissioners denied the request, following the recommendation of staff, who said the proposed structure would block others' view of the lake and could set a precedent for similar future requests.
Mayor Beverley Billiris was the sole dissenting vote. She told council members she goes to the cemetery to visit the graves, not the lake.
Yacavone said he is preparing a written response to Zinzow's petition.
"He alleges he's got a legal, equitable interest in real property. I deny that," Yacavone said.
The Planes family is well-known in Tarpon Springs, where they founded St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian School.
Rita Farlow can be reached at
email@example.com or (727) 445-4162.