When Clarence and Hazel Garland built their white ston Miracle Valley Church among the "jack rabbits and cornfields" of Finksburg more than two decades ago, they never imagined digging their own graves there would pose a problem.
"We assumed we could be buried there," said Mrs. Garland, who shares pastoral duties at the church with her husband.
"When you build something from scratch it becomes part of you. We've poured our heart and soul into that church, and we'd like to be buried there."
Since the church with the red cross on its bell tower was built 23 years ago, however, the area off Route 91 and Lawndale Road has been rezoned from agricultural to residential. Carroll's zoning ordinance does not allow cemeteries in residential zones unless they already existed as part of a church. Cemeteries are allowed as conditional uses in agriculture and conservation zones.
Mrs. Garland said she was told by county officials years ago that she and her husband could be buried on the church grounds.
But now Mr. Garland, 59, and Mrs. Garland, 66, find themselves without final resting spots.
"We had four lots, and we gave them away" to needy family and friends, said Mrs. Garland. "We have no place else to go at this late date, unless we go out and buy more plots. We've been at the church quite a few years now. It's home to us."
The couple has asked the county's permission for three burial plots on the church property. The other burial site would be for a teen-age son.
"We're not asking for a burial site for the congregation," Mrs. Garland told the Carroll Planning and Zoning Commission yesterday. "We're not asking for monuments. We just want little name plaques in the ground.
"We won't make a big to-do about it."
The planning commission appeared sympathetic to the Garlands' predicament and said the solution may lie in changing the county's definition of a cemetery. The county has defined a cemetery as a place of internment for human or animal remains, including crypts and mausoleums.
"I think the definition of cemetery needs to be looked at," said commission member Dennis Bowman.
The commission said the zoning ordinance could be changed to define a cemetery as a burial site with four or more bodies. That would allow the Garlands to use the church grounds as their final resting place.
"It's subject to more study and refinement," said Solveig Smith, the county zoning administrator. "The planning commission will either amend the definition or put something in the ordinance's general provision to allow for a situation similar to Mrs. Garland's, but also to protect against a subdivision from having a grave on every lot."
Carroll's Zoning Ordinance Oversight Committee, which reviews proposed zoning changes and makes recommendations to the planning commission, opposes changing the ordinance to allow cemeteries in residential areas. The committee said cemeteries wouldn't be appropriate land use in residential areas.
Cemeteries were intentionally excluded from residential areas because they were "not perceived as being a use people want to reside near," the committee said.
Roberta Gill, an attorney for the Maryland Morticians Board, said burial is strictly a local zoning issue in the absence of state regulations.
"There are no legal restrictions in terms of burying someone on your own property," she said. "The only restrictions are local zoning laws."
Mrs. Garland hopes that the planning commission will resolve the issue.
K. Marlene Conaway, Carroll's assistant director of planning, told Mrs. Garland that if she already had been buried on the church grounds, the cemetery would be legal.