Judge backs monastery

WARREN — A Trumbull County Common Pleas judge ruled in favor of a Howland monastery’s expansion plans that have been at the center of a legal fight started by neighbors who were concerned about potential health problems caused by the proposed mausoleum.

Judge Ronald J. Rice, in an Oct. 6 ruling on the administrative appeal made by Forest Hill Drive NE residents, upheld the March 3 decision of the Howland Zoning Board that granted St. Mary and St. John the Beloved Monastery’s request for a conditional zoning certificate to construct a church, guest building and mausoleum.

Rice wrote that the attempts to compare the proposal, or expansion, of the current guest house to a hotel, motel or boarding house is not supported by the record.

“Again, the Court finds (plantiff’s) characterization and portrayal of these structures is inconsistent with the evidence before Howland Zoning and now, this court,” Rice wrote.

Forest Hill Drive NE neighbors William and Dorothy DeLeo and Sally G. Fiore filed the complaint. At question was whether the Squires Lane monastery, which is affiliated with the Catholic Coptic Church, can add a 24,238-square-foot church and guest building with a 550-square-foot canopy and a 500-square-foot mausoleum for 36 vaults.

Dorothy DeLeo said she said the decision was “not unexpected.”

“I was really upset but I  guess we have to rally the troops, go on to the next step and figure out what that is,” DeLeo said about the effort that has included the erecting of anti-mausoleum signs in the neighborhood.

“I guess once they start digging, we hope the EPA can go there and ask for their permits,” DeLeo said.

DeLeo said the mausoleum would be unsealed and the remains in there would not be embalmed, creating a potential health hazard if  the remains ever seeped into the groundwater.

She also said she has spoken to an area Realtor about what would happen to housing values if a mausoleum is built in the middle of a densely populated area.

Attorney for the monastery, Mark Mikhaiel of Cleveland, had said the facts of the case were simple and straightforward.

North Canton attorneys James F. Mathews and Tonya J. Rogers, who represent the township, said the mausoleum met the requirement of being at least 100 feet from other buildings. The township’s attorneys said the zoning board also required the mausoleum to have flora planted around the structure as a condition of approval.