Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Standing room only: BZA postpones final decision on St Patrick cemetery expansion after neighbors object

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Westchester Court residents opposed to an expansion of St. Patrick Church cemetery on South Calumet Road prompted the Chesterton Board of Zoning Appeals to continue the church’s petition without a decision.

The public hearing will resume Dec. 26 although public comment was concluded; vote was 5-0 to do so. The town hall was standing room only Thursday, about half of those present for the cemetery discussion.

BZA members urged church pastor Fr. James Meade, church attorney Greg Babcock and the residents to meet and reach a compromise. BZA president Rodney Corder said it wasn’t fair to put the burden of negotiation on BZA members when it didn’t appear the church had reached out to neighbors until giving them legally required notice 14 days ago.

Babcock said the BZA conducted a preliminary hearing Oct. 24 on the petition when it initially was discussed publicly, and parishioners knew of the plans. Assured Fr. Meade, “We want to be good neighbors.”

BZA member Thomas Browne said the church should have had more dialogue with the property owners before last night.

Only Rita Nackovic spoke in support of cemetery expansion saying it’s a comfort to have a Catholic cemetery here. Fr. Meade said only five of the current burial sites are left for sale.

Remonstrators said their property values, peace of mind and lifestyles will be affected negatively with occupied graves so near their homes after the expansion.

“It would be a complete (financial) death sentence for everyone who lives there,” said Westchester resident Brian Busch. “I don’t like the idea of losing thousands of dollars at the stroke of a gavel.” He also said he wouldn’t be happy if their neighborhood’s children had to witness people being laid to rest.

“It’s something I don’t want to live with every day of my life,” agreed Julia Rash, who grew up in the home she recently purchased but said she’s now subject to emotional distress because of the proposed expansion.

Rash’s mother Lynn Wilczynski said because people will be resting in peace 10 feet from their fence, the residents will have to change by curtailing certain outdoor activities. “What do they do? Stop living?”

Dave Yoder said he never bargained for the cemetery to come up to his border and it’s an unnecessary hardship, especially when grave-decoration litter could blow onto his lot line.

Kevin Hauter suggested the cemetery first be expanded to the east rather than near occupied homes on the north. The church wants to expand the 1920 cemetery with 2,160 new burial sites.

Discussed was enlarging a planned 10-foot-wide planted buffer, possibly bermed, to 20 feet between the cemetery grounds and the Westchester homes. About 120 graves would be lost. Also, cemetery expansion could be phased starting with the far southeast section so the new graves closest to the homes wouldn’t be occupied for about 75 years.

The 2,000-member church’s irregularly shaped expansion parcel includes a home on Westchester Court; Babcock committed that the lot would not become an entrance/exit for the cemetery. Road improvements inside the enlarged cemetery are planned to better handle funeral traffic and parking. The current road and tight loop around a grotto were designed for carriages.

BZA member Jim Kowalski said he can see both sides of the situation. He asked the residents, “Who was there first? You more or less knew what you were getting into when you bought the property from the get-go.” Babcock and Nackovic made the same observation earlier.

Kowalski also said the property owners have rights. “We have to respect the privacy of the dead, and of the living.” Corder said he’s personally uncomfortable making a final decision without having more feedback from the residents on what would be a satisfactory solution for them.

Babcock said the church requires a use variance from the BZA because a cemetery is not a permitted use in Chesterton, a fact he found unusual in that death is part of a community’s life cycle. The expansion parcel is zoned Residential-2 for single family and duplexes.

BZA member Fred Owens said a church is a permitted use in R-2.

 

 

Posted 11/27/2013