MARCO ISLAND — “People are always dying.” This incontrovertible fact was pointed out by Reverend Thomas McCulley, pastor of New Life Community Church of God. The church presented its petition before council Tuesday evening to accomplish an unusual aim, to codify the use of a cemetery that predates Collier County.
“Since 1886 we have been burying people in that cemetery. Some of them are named Collier,” said McCulley. “The goal of the first phase is to bring law in compliance with reality.”
The impetus for the petition was the fact that the use of the cemetery does not appear to have been previously recognized by Collier government. “After extensive research at the city of Marco Island and Collier County, the (church) was unable to locate a conditional use or provisional use order among the records, although it is entirely possible that one exists, covering present and proposed burial plots as well as church uses,” states the petition before city planning.
The petition also covers future growth of both the cemetery and the church’s flock, although both are long-range plans.
“We paid a lot of money to experts to draw up the plans, so I thought, ‘Let’s get permission now so we don’t have to pay (design firms) twice,” explained McCulley.
Phase two, according to the petition, will expand the cemetery, using sites already designated for that purpose, adding about 1,133 burial plots.
McCulley touched on the option of a mausoleum in the petition. “A mausoleum option in our community would be nice, but it would require a change to state law and that is very, very unlikely ... if the conditional use permit is granted, we will be ready.”
Phase three expands the sanctuary itself, although McCulley estimates that stage is years away. The church’s goal is to grow from 276 seats to 550.
Planning Board staff recommended granting New Life Church’s petition with some key conditions. The church will have 90 days to enter into a parking agreement with the city. It has also agreed to coordinate design concepts with emerging improvements to Veteran’s Park.
A section of the petition refers to non-specific concerns raised by a resident against any temporary structure, most likely a swipe against possible use for the proposed high school.
Bill Trotter made note of that concern mentioned in the petition.
“What was the nature of the discussion regarding a resident raising concerns about temporary structure? Basically you couldn’t add anything such as school use without adding another petition, correct?”
Kris Van Lengen, city planner confirmed that adding modular structures would be an additional planning board condition and the church would have to apply for a new conditional use permit.”
“I consider that outside the subject,” he added.
Michael Wilson is a New Life Church member who attended the meeting in support of the petition.
“Why not? We would like to know we can grow and we would like more people to join. We would like to have a new, nicer environment in which to worship.”
Council voted unanimously to approve the petition.