DANVILLE -- Members of the Peace Lutheran Church have hopes that a columbarium will serve as a sacred place to honor loved ones who have passed.
But at a recent meeting, neighbors called the columbarium a "death wall" and voiced concerns that it would lower property values around the church.
The proposed columbarium would be on church grounds at 3201 Camino Tassajara. The project would cost $70,000 to $100,000 and consist of a wall set into a 7-foot berm. The wall would have niches holding plaques honoring loved ones and urns containing cremated remains, according to the church website.
"It would have mounding and landscaping around it," Peace Lutheran Pastor Steve Harms said. "It is meant to be a memorial garden so that families can come and simply be there and reflect. It's a place of healing."
The church submitted an application to the town of Danville planning department about a month ago for a land-use permit to build the columbarium. The town then sent notices to neighbors near the church.
"We received letters and calls from people concerned about it," Danville Principal Planner David Crompton said. "There are a lot of people in the neighborhood who don't like the idea of having one in the area. We are aware of that."
If the church decides to go forward, the plan would be submitted to the town's planning commission for review. However, after a July 23 meeting with neighbors, church officials are not sure what their next
"This was our first conversation with folks," Harms said regarding the meeting. "There was a lot of tension and anger expressed by folks. The big fear of course is devaluation of property values. We wanted to meet with them and hear what they had to say and work out a mutual solution."
Harms said that although no decision has been made on whether to move forward, his church is deeply committed to serving its members at each stage of their lives, including in death.
"We celebrate births, baptisms, young adulthood, weddings, the elderly, death itself," he said. "That affirmation of the whole is profound for us. We are here to provide pastoral care for our members from the womb to the tomb. It's part of our identity and heritage. Honoring the dead and those who have experienced a loss is part of our sacred responsibility."
Harms said St. Timothy's Episcopal Church at 1550 Diablo Road has had a columbarium since 1995 and that it has not bothered neighbors. Crompton concurred that he was not aware of any neighbor complaints about the St. Timothy's columbarium.
An employee for a company that represents four of the surrounding homeowners associations said the associations had no official position for or against the proposed columbarium. Calls to the other homeowners associations near the church were not returned.
Peace Lutheran is planning to hold a second meeting Monday with representatives from eight neighboring homeowners associations.
"That meeting will help us decide what our next steps are," Harms said. "We're sort of in the trenches for a while trying to understand the issues and if they can be addressed or if they are impossible to overcome."
Contact Jason Sweeney at 925-847-2123. Follow him at Twitter.com/Jason_Sweeney.