When Ben Pinello Jr. was diagnosed with cancer a couple years ago, he started thinking about where he would spend the hereafter.
He didn’t like the idea of being buried in one of the city’s cemeteries.
“Just say I don’t like crowds,” he told me.
In fact, he’s always kept his distance.
Pinello, 80, has lived half his life on his 40-acre spread southwest of downtown. He bought the place in 1962, after he returned from a stint in the Marine Corps. He wishes now he’d bought more.
And Pinello, the proud native-born grandson of Italian immigrants Alphonso and Blanche Venetucci Pinello, who came and mined coal and ranched in the late 1800s, has been on his 40 acres ever since.
Lived there with his wife, Vira, as he worked construction jobs building roads and dams and golf courses and things, usually for the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Corps of Engineers and others during his career as a “dirt mover” as he described it.
He stayed even as he became surrounded by neighborhoods of Lower Skyway and Bear Creek Regional Park and a large assisted living facility.
I can see why. It’s beautiful, rolling country through which Bear Creek slices. It has plenty of trees and wildlife and enjoys amazing views of Cheyenne Mountain and the Front Range and granite outcroppings along Gold Camp Road.
That’s probably why his son and three daughters didn’t stray far, either, building homes on the property.
And that’s where Pinello decided he wants to stay.
But the question is, will the city let him?
When this was the Old West, there would no question. Pinello would be buried in the family plot on a corner of the homestead, usually in a grave surrounded by a white picket fence, or maybe wrought iron.
But this isn’t the Old West anymore. It’s modern, urban Colorado Springs. And Pinello’s land is within city limits and that means adhering to rules and codes and zoning and master plans and everything that goes along with life in a modern city.
So I wondered. Can you still spend eternity under a tree next to the creek where you spent your life?
I called Erin McCauley, city planner, who is working with Pinello to make sure his proposed family cemetery meets all codes and requirements.
The request caught her off-guard.
“I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a request for a family plot,” McCauley said.
When she started researching the request, she made a discover. Seems the folks who wrote the city’s comprehensive plan, the Bible for land use within Colorado Springs, just didn’t contemplate any more family burial plots.
So McCauley is doing her job, notifying neighbors of the request, which technically requires issuing a conditional use permit to allow a family cemetery in a residential zone.
The cemetery would be tiny, just 25 feet by 40 feet, on the south side of the creek in a little clearing.
“It’s just a nice spot,” Pinello said of his proposed final resting place. “It’s probably 100 feet from the creek. There’s scrub oak and cottonwood and locust trees around.”
He said neighbors shouldn’t be worried about it getting too large. After all, it’s just him, Vira, and their four kids, if they decide to join him.
And he doesn’t anticipate anything too fancy in the cemetery.
“I’m looking for a wrought iron fence,” he said. “And I think a rock for a headstone would be good enough.”
For now, he’s waiting for an answer from the city.
McCauley didn’t seem to think the request would be a big problem.
“The most important criteria is compatibility with the neighborhood,” she said. “The value and quality of the neighborhood surrounding a conditional use must not be substantially injured.”
The only potential issue she anticipates is perhaps a flood plain conflict. But maybe not.
It will take a few weeks for the permit process to work. Pinello should get his answer in January.
From my view of the land, I’d say the whole region would be much improved by allowing Ben Pinello to remain exactly where he lived all these years. We’ve still got a little of the Old West in us, don’t we?
I just hope he doesn’t need the plot for many years to come.