Saturday, February 24, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Hillsborough Commission says no to St. Paul cemetery

I could be mistaken, but I believe it was St. Paul, in his letter to the Romulans, who once wrote something to the effect that: "It is probably a truly bad idea to try to create a cemetery in a heavily residential neighborhood. Yay, I say unto thee — it verily creeps people out."

It is true that for 2,000 years St. Paul's prolific missives have remained a source of solace since he fell off his horse on the way to Damascus.

But that saintly clout was no match for the Hillsborough County Commission, which voted last week to deny an effort by St. Paul Catholic Church in Carrollwood Village to create a 3-acre cemetery on parish grounds just off of Stall Road.

Or you might say 300 signatures on a petition opposing the burial ground, along with opposition from the 3,000-member Carrollwood Village Homeowners Association, trumped the apostle's juice with the Almighty.

Or as St. Paul might have asked in his letter to the Klingons: "What were you people thinking? A cemetery? Everybody knows Walmart probably already has dibs on the site anyway."

On the face of it, local residents complained the addition of a cemetery on church grounds would make an already congested Stall Road even more muddled. St. Paul's is a very active parish, with numerous functions and events taking place on its campus in addition to its regularly scheduled services. Now the neighborhood was fretting over the impact of large funerals clogging the artery.

Those concerns are all probably quite valid. And then there is the heebie-jeebie factor to consider. While all that stuff about dust into dust is certainly true, there are still some people who simply would prefer not to live next to a cemetery.

It's one thing if you knowingly buy a house adjacent to a cemetery. You know your neighbors are going to be eerily standoffish. It's quite another to have an eternal resting ground suddenly imposed on you.

Originally, St. Paul's wanted to rezone enough of its 19-acre property to accommodate 7,000 graves. However, the resulting outcry from residents made that idea dead on arrival. Even the scaled-back proposal didn't win over opponents, who feared seeing dead people would not be good for property values.

Eventually, in anticipation of the County Commission's vote last week, Carrollwood began to be dotted with pro- and anti-cemetery yard signs. What would we call this exercise in tombstone democracy? Don't dead on me?

St. Paul's, like any large enterprise doing business in a community, has an obligation to be a good neighbor.

Wanting to create a cemetery where none had existed before failed to take into consideration the sensibilities — rational, or otherwise — of the surrounding residents.

The commission decided not to give St. Paul's its blessing even though a hearing officer and various review agencies had raised no objections to the church's Boot Hill of Carrollwood.

But paper-pushers aren't elected officials. When hundreds of annoyed people show up before a County Commission torqued over the prospect of last rites disrupting their real estate values and pols are receiving more angry letters from constituents than the Anthony Weiner Fan Club, it was a pretty good bet the St. Paul cemetery was going to flat line before the first shovel of dirt was turned over.

Or as St. Paul might have written in his letter to the Vulcans: "I could have told you dead people don't vote."

Lawyers for the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg have yet to decide whether to appeal the commission's denial, which could also be based on a claim the vote violated St. Paul's First Amendment religious protections.

That would seem a stretch. The County Commission didn't infringe on St. Paul's right to pray. It merely denied where the church can plant its parishioners.

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