Tallmadge's Planning and Zoning Commission is slated to conduct a public hearing on April 6 around 7 p.m. on a conditional zoning application request by the First Congregational Church of Tallmadge, UCC, for a memorial garden with a columbarium on its 7.97-acre grounds at 85 Heritage Drive. A columbarium is a structure with niches for cremated remains. The commission meets in Council Chambers in City Hall, 46 North Ave.

"First Congregational Church of Tallmadge, UCC, understands its mission to be an arch of spiritual and temporal care from birth through life and death for our members and friends," the Rev. Dr. John M. Schluep, senior pastor, wrote in a letter to the commission dated Dec. 20, 2016. "Providing a safe and scared place for interment of the cremains of our church members is part of the ministry. We have taken great care to develop the Memorial Garden in a manner that does not disrupt the neighborhood but enhances the sense of sacredness."

First Congregational Church has approximately 800 members; a 100-niche columbarium, 9 feet long, 5 feet high and 18 inches wide, is proposed. Some people are finding cremation a more desirable option when death occurs due to rising burial expenses, Schluep says. Columbarium also take up less ground space than individual plots, he notes. First Congregational Church started exploring the possibility of adding a columbarium and memorial garden about three years ago. Schluep likens the presence of a columbarium to the time when churches provided members easy access to loved ones' resting place, like the old church graveyard.

As proposed, the garden would be located in the church's central courtyard, which is enclosed on three sides. Schluep says the plan is to landscape the open end of the courtyard with trees and shrubs to prohibit line-of-sight vision from Heritage Drive. The church would contract with a firm called Eickhof Columbaria to construct it.

Because the area is zoned residential, the church must obtain a conditional permit for the columbarium to proceed. "We want to be good neighbors," Schluep says. Eighteen to 24 months ago, church officials invited nearby property owners to a meeting about what it was envisioned. Feedback from that meeting led the church to alter its original idea of locating the Memorial Garden in the west side yard, according to Schluep.

"Here in Tallmadge, we have a personal connection with the community and the families and a great relationship with this neighborhood in which we're located," Schluep says. "We want to keep that and offer our members the chance to choose a final resting place in the shadow of our church."

Tallmadge City Cemetery, 46 North Ave., installed a columbarium a little more than two years ago. The 12-acre cemetery is located south of the Circle between South and Southwest avenues.

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