CARROLLWOOD, Fla. - "It's our community," said Angela Piplitz. "It's the integrity of our community."
Inside the Hillsborough County Commissioners board room, members of the Carrollwood Village community sat shoulder-to-shoulder. Many residents wore white to show their unity against their neighbor, the St. Paul Catholic Church.
The church has filed a petition with the county to rezone their property so they can build a three-acre cemetery on their campus located at N. Dale Mabry Highway and Stall Road.
"It's a real big deal. It's an inappropriate use," Scott Katz told the zoning hearing master on behalf of those residents in attendance.
"We have a right to exercise our right of religious freedom and Catholic-Christian burial is within that right," countered Joseph Divito, general counsel for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
But Carrollwood Village neighbors say this isn't the right spot. They argue that a cemetery would lower their property values and significantly increase traffic in an already problematic area.
"It will greatly impact us. Our children play there, our school bus stops right there at that corner. If there's a funeral procession, what's our school bus driver supposed to do," asked Meena Saxena.
But Divito says there are already approximately 100 funerals at St. Paul's. However, people who currently come for a funeral service have to then leave and go to another cemetery. He argues having a cemetery on site will actually reduce traffic in that area.
"You can stay, have the service, have the burial, and then leave. It'll be less traffic on the community roads," said Divito.
On Monday, the zoning hearing master heard both arguments. He now has 15 working days to render his decision. The Board of County Commissioners will then take up the issue at the land use meeting on August 13.
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