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Tampa mayor, city leaders look to protect historical burial grounds previously forgotten, abandoned

The city's plans include maintenance being taken over, trimming the tree canopy and replacing run-down fences at Memorial Park Cemetery in East Tampa.

TAMPA, Fla. — The city of Tampa is committing time, money and manpower to protect different historic burial grounds previously forgotten or abandoned.

The plans include maintenance being taken over, trimming the tree canopy and replacing run-down fences at Memorial Park Cemetery in East Tampa, city leaders explained at a news conference Friday.

Mayor Jane Castor asked her team last year to create a task force to help the issue of these abandoned burial sites holistically, which they say they have made progress.

“Our city's comprehensive plan is the roadmap to the future, it’s our long-range plan and it currently does not address cemeteries the way that it should,” Director of City Planning Stephen Benson said.

With that in mind, Castor gave the task of taking that gap in the policy and focusing on these three things:

  • Proposing changes to address the lack of land use designation.
  • Proposing to add a list and designations of all cemeteries currently known, not just city-owned.
  • Propose policies that will address what to do about situations with the cemeteries moving forward while providing protection.

As Castor spoke during the news conference at Memorial Park Cemetery, she explained how Tampa stepped up to help the forgotten burial site.

"This particular cemetery was abandoned, so the city took it over [and] ensured that it is kept in a manner that reflects that respect that we have for everyone who is buried here," she said.

Leaders have worked with Tampa City Council members to change the land-use category of most of the city-owned cemeteries to "park lands and open space," a news release explains. This protects them even more by restricting development.

City staff is working on getting Jackson Heights Cemetery to facilitate the land-use change, as well.

This change, however, takes several months to go through the process with a state review needed at times to amend the comprehensive plan, according to Benson.

"We will work in partnership with the planning commission as well as Tampa City Council to make it's done as quickly as possible," he explained.

The City of Tampa Development and Growth Management Administration also sent a letter to the Hillsborough County Planning Commission at the mayor's request, which acknowledged the county's recommendations.

The letter also asked to see expanded policies which include:

  • Additional protection for city-owned cemeteries, including potential preservation, protection and potential national/local landmark designation.
  • Policies to address if new lands are discovered and measures to ensure the respect of remains.

"The steps that we are taking are not going to right past wrongs, but what they are going to do is ensure that we do not have lost or abandoned cemeteries in the future," Castor explained. "This problem will not occur from this point forward."

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