Penitas Residents Concerned Over Plans of Neighboring Cemete

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PENITAS – A Rio Grande Valley neighborhood is upset they were never notified about a cemetery going up in their own backyard.

Off Expressway 83 in Penitas is 11th Street. The neighborhood says it seems like something that should be against the law, but according to the state, it’s not.

Penitas City Manager Omar Romero tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS it all boils down to a conflict in 2016 census numbers. Because of a low population, plans for the cemetery didn't need to go before the city to be approved. That left neighbors like Jorge Garcia feeling robbed of his voice.

“It’s out of the ordinary,” Garcia told CHANNEL 5 NEWS. “Unfortunately, I don’t know if our voices are going to be heard.”

Garcia grew up in the neighborhood. Now he’s raising his kids there too. He never expected a cemetery to move in behind his childhood home. He tells us his neighbors feel the same.

“They are against it and they want to do something about it,” he said.

According to the state of Texas, the deal is done. John David Santos owns the property. He tells us he owns four funeral homes and one other cemetery in the Valley. He says for this one was years in the making.

“It was our lifelong dream there in Penitas to buy that property,” Santos said. “The owners of that property approached me about 10 or 12 years ago.”

To get the go-ahead, Santos had to fulfill this list of needs for the Texas Department of Banking that rules over perpetual care cemeteries.

One of the list items requires him to submit a map where the cemetery will be located to be filed with the county clerk’s office. CHANNEL 5 NEWS looked up the plat map that was submitted to Hidalgo County.

Santos said he visited the neighborhood to talk to people living there. Garcia said he must have missed his house.

“He never came by, house to house to talk to us. It’s my parents’ house but he never spoke to them. At all,” he said.

The cemetery is located within a mile of city limits. With the population of Penitas in the last census coming in at less than 5,000 people, according to Texas Health and Safety Code 711.008, it’s in compliance.

That law states cemeteries are allowed “in or within one mile of the boundaries of a municipality with a population of 5,000 to 25,000.”

Romero tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS he estimates the city of Penitas’ population is closer to 7,000. Even still, the cemetery would still be in compliance.

Santos didn’t have to go to the city for approval because he was approved by the state. Romero told us in a phone call, he wished he had known about the plans for the cemetery.

“In a way he’s right. I should have gone before the city,” Santos said. “But I thought I had through other channels, through other people that work for the city.”

While the city is estimating their population is higher, homeowners next door have other concerns.

“The value of the houses, it’s going to decrease,” Garcia said.

He noted there are lines for gas and electric in the field, as well as an irrigation canal.

Santos said he’s taken that into consideration. He adds they won’t sell plots in a more than 100-foot area behind the homes.

“If they give me an opportunity I’m going to make something that’s really nice, that’s not going to lower their property value,” Santos said.  “I’ve seen other cemeteries where backyards are touching right up to the cemeteries.”

He said he didn’t want to do that to his neighbors.

“I’ve done business with them. They’ve trusted me with their loved ones in the past and that’s just not the right thing to do,” Santos said.

Garcia tells us his own grandmother is buried in Santos’ other cemetery.


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