TALLMADGE -- For the time being, the First Congregational Church of Tallmadge has withdrawn its request for a conditional zoning application which would pave the way for a contested columbarium with the understanding Mayor Dave Kline will form an ad hoc committee to consider standards for such structures. City Council voted 5 to 0 to accept the church's request May 11, with Council member Kim Ray (at-large) abstaining and Council member Carol Kilway (Ward 4) absent. First Congregational officials left open the possibility that they would return to the city with the columbarium request once standards are in place.

The church hopes to construct 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 Rev. Dr. John M. Schluep, senior pastor at First Congregational, describes "providing a safe and sacred place for interment of the cremains of our church members" as part of the church's ministry. Some neighboring residents have voiced opposition to the proposal, asserting a columbarium would be a catalyst for a devaluation in their property value and saying they don't want to live near a cemetery.

On May 4, the city's Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend Tallmadge City Council reject the church's conditional zoning application request. During that meeting, Commission member Patrick Larson described the decision before the body as "uncharted territory" and Commission Chairman Gerald Taylor noted the city lacked standards addressing such structures. Acknowledging that fact, the mayor told Council on May 11 that he intends to form an ad hoc committee within six months to research, develop and suggest standards for them in Tallmadge. Kline said the panel will include residents of each ward as well as representatives of City Council, although he said he hasn't decided how many total members the committee will have. Kline also stressed that he cannot offer a timeline for when such guidelines may be adopted and enacted.

"First Congregational Church of Tallmadge may be the first to make this request," Schluep said, "but I can guarantee you this is not going to be the last." According to Schluep, Tallmadge boasts more churches per capita than any other city in the United States; that fact could mean more similar requests in the future, the minister noted. The mayor concurred, saying, "It's something we need to study -- it's an important topic."

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