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A family's requested tomb would block the view at a Tarpon Springs cemetery.
Published Feb. 15, 2008

The Planes family said they just wanted to stay together. Forever.

"We have been together for 27 years and all of the children have grown up together," William and Regina Planes wrote in a letter to the Tarpon Springs City Commission. "They want the family to have one mausoleum with all of us together."

But commissioners denied the Planes' request Tuesday to build a 27-foot-long lakefront mausoleum in Cycadia Cemetery. They followed the recommendation of staff, who worried the proposed structure would block others' view of the lake.

Mayor Beverley Billiris was the sole dissenting vote.

"I come to the cemetery to visit grave sites, not look at the lake," she said.

Still, the commission felt the view was an important enough consideration that they deferred a decision last meeting so they could all see the property. They visited the cemetery Monday, where city staff held up tarps to simulate different mausoleum designs.

"In order to retain the scale and intimate nature of the existing cemetery," Commissioner Robin Saenger wrote after seeing the site, "the new mausoleum would be out of scale and in poor proportion."

Saenger was absent from Tuesday night's vote.

Commissioners also expressed concerns that approval might create a "domino effect," with large mausoleums sprouting up around Lake Cycadia.

"I feel by approving this, we would be, in effect, opening the door to allow other massive structures to be built in the interior of the cemetery," Saenger wrote to fellow commissioners.

The Planes' original mausoleum blueprint didn't spark nearly as much discussion.

The family entered into an agreement with the city in 2004 to build three private, family mausoleums on adjoining waterfront plots.

At a recent meeting, William Planes told the commission that his family loved Tarpon Springs and "plan to spend the rest of our lives and eternity here."

But they weren't completely satisfied with the design of their final resting place. Various members of the big family requested permission to modify the structures planned for the three 16-by-16-foot parcels.

Instead of constructing three separate mausoleums, they now wanted to "place one structure over the three contiguous plots," William and Regina Planes wrote to the city in December.

City staff recommended that commissioners deny the request because the change would "impact the enjoyment of the cemetery by everyone," said Paul Smith, assistant public services director. Plus, a single mausoleum in that location "significantly blocks lake view for existing graves and visitors," city staff members wrote in a presentation.

But Justin Zinzow, an attorney for the Planes family, told commissioners Tuesday that "visual tranquility" was not listed as a guiding factor in city codes. There is "no right to a view," he said.

Zinzow went on to argue that the new mausoleum design was consistent with other structures in the cemetery.

Most important, he said, the family wanted to be together.

"It's not just sticks and bricks that I'm talking about," Zinzow told the commission.

But resident Jessie Burke told commissioners it's not the city's job to "make sure they're all crammed together," adding that the crucifix-adorned structure would be "a billboard for one religion only."

"It's an affront to our harmony. To our spiritual harmony," she said.

Ultimately, commissioners said their denial was based more on aesthetic concerns than religious ones. But even those, Billiris said, sprang from personal preference.

"I guess I didn't see what the other commissioners saw," she said. "I didn't think it was an unreasonable request."

Elena Lesley can be reached at or (727) 445-4167.