Vista del Cielo cemetery plan hits roadblock

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Posted: Friday, July 27, 2012 9:05 am | Updated: 7:32 am, Mon Jul 30, 2012.

What better than to be buried in some place that has a view to heaven? Not in the Vista Del Cielo neighborhood apparently.

Nogales residents Gerardo Calza and Mike Danielson last week proposed building a cemetery on  50 acres in the posh subdivision which boasts some of the most expensive homes in Santa Cruz County. The plan calls for no above-ground headstones, manicured lawn and feature meditation and prayer areas.

The Vista Del Cielo Homeowners Association and other residents don’t want it and according to an audio recording of a meeting on Thursday, the City of Nogales Board of Adjustments sealed its fate when it decided to sidestep the fray.

On a motion by Chairman Raymond Kory and approved unanimously, the developers were directed to come back in two months for the board’s blessing only if they can convince the homeowners’ association to accept the project.  

Chances are slim to none. Alfredo Guevara, a resident and prominent local urologist, played on the topic of the evening and said the cemetery “would be the final nail in the coffin” of the subdivision.

“This is going to deteriorate the neighborhood,” he told the board. “I assure you every step of the way, Vista del Cielo, the home owners will fight it. We will fight the engineering, we will fight the concept and we will fight with the state, county and city because we don’t think this is a good idea.”

It’s “strictly economics,” said Jaime Chamberlain, whose family owns 130 acres in the area, and “vehemently” opposes the idea. “If you want people to continue to build 3,000-, 4,000-, 5,000-square-foot homes in Nogales, they are most likely going to get built in Vista del Cielo. And I guarantee you nobody is going to want to build next to a cemetery no matter how nice it is.”

Homeowners’ association president Chuck Thomas told the board, “It would be hard to fathom that you would approve this project adjoining probably the highest valued residential property in Santa Cruz County.  From everything I’ve heard from the homeowners and members of the board today I have not found anybody that is in favor.”

Kory asked Thomas: “Is that just because nobody wants a cemetery in their back yard?

Thomas and other homeowners expressed a fear that property values would be adversely affected. They said the cemetery could be built elsewhere. “I can personally think of a lot of other better areas in the city where a cemetery could be placed that wouldn’t affect property values near as much as it would in our particular area,” said Thomas, without mentioning any alternative properties.

Rudy Pina, who also resides in the area, warned of possible traffic-safety problems with increases in volumes and during processions to and from the cemetery proposed for land located off the narrow two-lane Camino Vista del Cielo between the Vista del Cielo and Beatus Estates subdivisions. The subdivision has just one entrance from the east off State Route 82 (Patagonia Highway) and one west entrance off of North Grand Avenue.  The west entrance is further complicated by a railroad crossing.

Possibly as a dig on Kory, who lives in the Meadow Hills subdivision, Guevara said placing a cemetery in Vista del Cielo is akin to placing it in the now-defunct golf course in his neighborhood by “turning 18 holes into 18-hundred holes. It’s a bad idea.”

His wife, Renee Guevara, told the board she did not want to sound “elitist” but noted that cemeteries seem to be a pre-determining factor for the type of development around them. She said Nogales City Cemetery is surrounded by low-income housing. “Even though the cemetery in Nogales was built a long time ago, I didn’t see people clamoring to get their homes built around that cemetery.”

The cemetery - flanked by Bejarano and Kitchen Streets and Western Avenue and Kino Street - was officially established in 1905 on a hill near the old Camp Stephen D. Little military camp.

The municipality ceased selling plots at the Nogales City Cemetery last fall after reaching capacity and there is just one other effort afoot to find a new burial ground. Last year the board of adjustments approved a conditional use permit for Alfredo Puchi Jr. to plan out a cemetery on 10 acres west of Nogales High School. But Puchi has yet to receive approval from the city planning and zoning commission.

Thomas Martinez of Martinez Funeral Chapels had announced plans to purchase Puchi’s 10 acres to construct the cemetery. Ultimately, he said he was unable to cut a deal with the property owner on a purchase price.