Members of Saint Ann Catholic Church on Highway 70 Business West have cleared the first of two hurdles with the Town of Smithfield for construction of a columbaria. A columbaria is a structure that holds funeral urns and cremated remains of the deceased.
Until now, the Town of Smithfield’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) only allowed columbaria up to six feet in height and no more than 200 niches (urn places). The church is proposing a columbaria that is seven feet tall and once fully built could hold up to 2,000 niches.
In a 6-to-1 vote, at their March monthly meeting, the Town Council agreed to amend their UDO to allow the church to build the taller and larger columbaria. The church still has to come back before the council for a special use permit.
Planning Director Stephen Wensman said the Town could be asked to approve a change in the Trust Fund requirement for a columbaria when the Special Use Permit request is heard at a future date. The diocese currently charges $4,000 a niche and requires 15 percent of the sales price to be placed in an endowment for future maintenance. Wensman said with the planned 2,000 niches, St. Ann’s will have an endowment for perpetual care of $1.2 million when the columbaria is built out. The Council may be asked to set an alternative percentage of the sales price to be retained for perpetual care, not less than 15% of the sales price. The proposed change to the endowment would only affect columbaria that are greater than 200 niches. For the first 200 niches, 50% of the sales price must be placed in an endowment for future maintenance.
Councilman Dr. David Barbour was not opposed to the columbaria but voted against the UDO amendment. Dr. Barbour felt the Council was making too many changes to the UDO and stated the requested modifications could have been accommodated with the special use permit.