COLUMBIA — A funeral company's proposal to rezone an abandoned church at East Texas and North Garth avenues has won the approval of city staff, which is recommending the Planning and Zoning Commission give the request its stamp of approval.
Carr-Yager Funeral Home, which operates two funeral businesses in Howard County, has asked that the city rezone the Church of God from residential to planned commercial. The request, which was filed by the church, is the subject of a public hearing on Thursday night. If it's approved, Carr-Yager will buy the property, convert the church into a funeral home and use the separate parsonage building as office space.
What: Public hearing on the proposed rezoning of the Church of God, corner of East Texas and Garth avenues.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: City Council chambers, fourth floor of the Daniel Boone City Building, 701 E. Broadway.
Virginia Higdon, vice president of the Parkade Neighborhood Association, said she is comfortable with the idea of a funeral home opening on the property and certainly prefers that to an empty lot, but some members of the association have reservations about the commercial zoning.
Association secretary and spokesman Peter Anger worries about having commercial zoning right next to residential properties.
"I'm inclined to think that what degrades a neighborhood is putting (commercial) zoning right next to residential without the buffer," he said.
City planners generally recommend office zoning as a buffer between commercial and residential areas, but mortuaries are not allowed in office zoning. Anger wants the council to amend the zoning code to allow mortuaries without crematories to operate in office zones.
City planning staff agreed in their recommendation to the commission that the zoning rules should be reviewed, arguing that a mortuary has equal or less impact than hospitals and residential care facilities, which are allowed office zoning uses.
It could take several months, however, to revise the zoning ordinance - Chuck Bondra, a senior planner with the city, estimated three months or more.
Carr-Yager spokesman John Bach said the funeral home is unwilling to wait for a zoning ordinance change.
"I'm hoping to get this all done in the next couple months," he said.
City planning staff, anticipating the funeral home's reluctance to wait, said the funeral home - without a crematory - would make a good buffer between commercial and residential areas. It recommended granting the commercial zoning if the commission chooses not to change the ordinance.
Anger, however, worries about losing the buffer if the funeral home ever leaves. Because Carr-Yager is seeking planned zoning, any future businesses with eyes on the property would have to request a hearing before the council to change the use of the land.
A similar situation occurred in 1998, when the historic Guitar Mansion on Confederate Hill was bought and rezoned to host weddings and receptions. The business venture collapsed, however, and the property on Oakland Gravel Road went up for sale. The commercial zoning attracted many businesses that the neighborhood and commission didn't want.
The relatively low volume of traffic at Texas and Garth avenues would exclude businesses such as fast food restaurants, Bondra and others have said.
Anger, however, noted that traffic is increasing in the neighborhood.
"Right now, at 5 o'clock if you go through that four-way stop at Garth and Texas, traffic's backed up all the way to the Business Loop," he said. "And 8 o'clock in the morning."
Bach is confident the funeral home would succeed on the property; he said he wouldn't be trying to start it otherwise.
Most people in the neighborhood haven't weighed in on the issue, or care to.
"Nobody's expressed any concern, and I don't have any," Higdon said.
Anger supports the funeral home, saying it could help the neighborhood thrive by creating diversity. But he spoke passionately about the need for the city to follow its own zoning guidelines.
"Yes, we want the funeral home in there," Anger said. "We don't want cremations. We want zoning that is acceptable for the neighborhood."