Columbia's first and only cemetery apparently is getting a longer lease on life.
Columbia Memorial Park owner Harvey Geller and the Rouse Co., the developer of the unincorporated city, are working out plans to expand the 5-year-old cemetery by about 10 acres, which would provide enough burial space to accommodate an additional generation of people, Mr. Geller said.
"Another generation can have a burial with parents and grandparents," he said.
The 28-acre memorial park, bounded by Route 108 and Trotter Road in west Columbia, received widespread attention when it opened in 1989, 22 years after the Rouse Co. established the planned community. Articles appearing in regional and national publications mused about how the developer of the unique community focused on providing residents many options for work, recreation, worship and grass-roots participation, but not for death.
The cemetery represented that Columbia had become an "established community" and was no longer a "new town or an experiment," said Jerry Brock, Rouse Co. vice president and senior development director, when burial plot sales began in 1989.
With additional acreage for graves, trails and mausoleums, the cemetery likely will be able to stretch sales of burial space for about 70 to 80 years, instead of 50 to 60 years, Mr. Geller estimated. The cemetery's expanded life span will be important since Columbia and the county will continue to grow, he said.
A cemetery must accumulate enough money in a trust fund from burial plot sales to make a profit and pay for the property's maintenance and administration in perpetuity, since income dries up after all the space is sold, Mr. Geller said.
"A cemetery by its nature is a depleting asset," said Mr. Geller.
The memorial park will have a net increase of 10 acres if plans to transfer about 13 acres west of Trotter Road from the Rouse Co. and exchange land with the county Board of Education go through. Of those 10 acres, only three to four acres could be used for grave sites because the rest is near wetlands or is needed for a buffer area along Trotter Road.
Mr. Geller estimated that 1,000 burial sites could be created per acre. Potentially, each site could accommodate two bodies through double-depth interment, in which bodies are buried on top of one another.
Also, the expansion will allow Mr. Geller and the Rouse Co., which oversees the cemetery's design and maintenance, to proceed with plans to build 21 smaller mausoleums that would be hidden from roadside view, instead of constructing one large mausoleum.
Mr. Geller estimates that mausoleum spaces would increase from 3,000 to about 10,000.
All told, the number of burial sites will increase from an estimated 25,000 to nearly 40,000 with the land expansion and new design plan, not including options for double-depth interment, Mr. Geller said.
Between 1,200 and 1,500 burial plots have been sold, Mr. Geller said, with about half the buyers coming from Columbia. Prices are $825 for undeveloped graves sites, $975 for completed sites, $2,690 to reserve a mausoleum vault for one person and $5,175 for two people.
Mr. Geller said plans could be completed and construction could begin on mausoleums connected by landscaped trails next year.