ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The Catholic Church is clarifying plans for development on the grounds of the historic Mission Nombre de Dios in response to backlash over the proposed construction of a parking garage.
Residents concerned about traffic and noise rallied opposition to the development, collecting more than 1,600 signatures for a petition. Now, according to the church, plans for the garage are off the table.
Joanna Stark, executive director for the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission Nombre de Dios, a Catholic mission in St. Augustine, said the church’s goal was not to commercialize the property.
“The intent is to keep the environment peaceful, serene, to ensure that when individuals and groups are here, there is opportunity for a quiet prayer, meditation,” Stark told News4Jax.
The church announced that plans for the proposed development have been shelved after listening to what people living in the community had to say about it.
“I’m totally against it,” said resident George Miller. “It’s just a beautiful view and it is just going to be ruined.”
The appearance of the property has changed over the past few years after the area sustained damage during hurricanes Matthew and Irma. As a result, the necessary repairs required a major investment.
So the church decided to take it as an opportunity to spruce up – and shore up – the historic grounds. Construction’s already underway. Plans include landscaping, a rosary garden and an amphitheater.
Neighbors are concerned that adding amenities for large gatherings would make the site more popular and in turn bring higher volumes of foot traffic to the sacred site.
“It is the traffic, it is the intrusion into the neighborhood, it’s the loss of serenity in a place that should be just quiet and serene,” said Michele Van Doren, who lives near the mission grounds.
But, as Stark pointed out, packing an amphitheater was never part of the church’s mission. She said they prefer to think of the venue as open air seating, which will enhance the experience for visitors.
“That’s what we are calling it, honestly now, because we realize that there is a very negative connotation with the word amphitheater,” she said, “so we are calling it open air seating.”