TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The city of Tampa is taking steps to protect cemeteries, which includes protecting them from future development.
City leaders have added new policies to the Tampa Comprehensive Plan to recognize cemetery sites, protect them from future development and support preservation efforts.
The city looked at its five cemeteries and updated the land use designations for each of them to remove the ability to develop.
Future land use map amendments have been completed for Jackson Heights Cemetery, Marti-Colon Cemetery, Oaklawn Cemetery and Woodlawn Cemetery (including the Centro Asturiano located within).
Tampa’s planning director Stephen Benson says one of the new policies they added is promoting the use of technology so city leaders make decisions in the future based on fact and not speculation.
“Nobody had ever really taken a hard look at it to say what is the designation for these sites, because the city owned them and so there was there was never really a need to look into it,” Benson said. “This just shed light on that issue.”
“We heard loud and clear, both from members of the community, but also from our city council members and from the mayor, how important it is to make sure that we do everything we can to protect and preserve the cemetery, regardless who owns them,” Benson said.
One of those voices was Aileen Henderson.
“Finally, we’re getting the recognition that we should get with these historical cemeteries,” Henderson said.
Henderson is part of the Save Woodlawn Cemetery group. Earlier this year, a developer wanted to build homes where the group believed were unmarked graves.
But the fight was more personal for her. She has family members buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.
“While they’re doing the right thing, do they have the right people in place? I would consider myself one of the right people, is the city of Tampa going to use the resources they have available to them through agencies like the Cemetery Society to provide them the support they’re going to need,” Henderson said. “Organizations like the Cemetery Society can certainly step up and provide the city of Tampa the resources that they need to get things done. We can be their eyes and ears and report back to them these are our needs.”
She’s grateful the city is taking this step forward to protect cemeteries, but after pushing for change for so long, she wants to see the city follow through before celebrating.
“Them coming up with this amendment to protect these historical cemeteries 100%, they’re moving in the right direction but again, I happen to be a woman of action,” Henderson said. “Put your money where your mouth is. I’d like to see what they can do for us.”
The city says the amendment will go up to the state for review and will become effective in mid-October.
The City of Tampa owns five cemeteries: Woodlawn, Oaklawn, Jackson Heights, Marti-Colon and the Centro Asturiano section of Woodlawn. It also maintains East Tampa’s historic Memorial Cemetery, which was abandoned following the death of its last owner.