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Jul 21, 2008 4:51 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Homeowners voice opposition over proposed cemetery land swap

Jul 21, 2008 4:51 PM

Westhampton Cemetery Association officials are hoping that the Southampton Town Trustees will approve a proposed land swap that will extend the life of the graveyard by another 35 to 40 years, but many homeowners on Lakeside Lane—whose properties would run up against the cemetery—voiced their opposition to the proposal during a special meeting on Friday night.

The Cemetery Association and Town Trustees have been discussing the proposed land swap involving a pair of 2-acre properties, one owned by the association and the other by the Trustees, for the past few years. The main difference between the two properties is that the town-owned lot runs adjacent to the northern border of the preexisting cemetery, while the one belonging to the association does not and is landlocked.

The proposed transfer has become an urgent matter, as association members have noted that there are fewer than 50 gravesites now available for purchase to accommodate future burials at the Westhampton Cemetery.

The proposed land swap will allow for an additional 1,500 burials at the Westhampton Cemetery, which is located north of Montauk Highway, according to association members. It will also allow the Cemetery Association to avoid a lengthy application process with the New York State Secretary of State, required if the group must utilize its own 2-acre property that does not run adjacent to the current cemetery. The problem is that the state will require that the association complete an application as if it were registering a new graveyard.

No decision on the proposed land swap was made during Friday night’s meeting, held at Westhampton Beach Village Hall. It is unclear when a final decision will be made by the Town Trustees.

The majority of the estimated 50 people who attended Friday night’s meeting, including many residents of Lakeside Lane, which partly runs along the northern border of the Trustee land, said they opposed the property swap. In addition to not wanting a cemetery in their backyard, homeowners said the proposed deal would reduce the value of their homes.

Others in attendance said they supported the swap, noting that it is an easy fix to a problem that will not go away.

“I live in Westhampton and am in favor of the swap,” said Meredith Medina-Murray. “My family has been here since the 1890s, and we have had a plot here since the 1930s. There should be room for all of us.

“The area around Beaver Lake had the first school, the first church and the grist mills,” she continued. “If you divide the cemetery up into two pieces, you divide the village up into two pieces.”

However, the majority of those in attendance encouraged the Trustees to deny the request for a variety of reasons.

Other residents explained that upon purchasing their respective properties on Lakeside Lane, they were told that the land owned by the Trustees would remain as open space or a passive park.

“When you bought your house, the situation was ‘X,’ and when you wake up, the situation is ‘Y,’” said Jon Semlear, the president of the Town Trustees, about the effects the proposed land swap could have on Lakeside Lane homeowners.

Joan Mitchell, a resident of Westhampton who lives on Lakeside Lane, said she did not understand how the Trustees and Westhampton Cemetery Association could discuss a proposed land transfer without a definitive plan.

“We’re here to hear your concerns,” said Town Trustee Brian Tymann. He went on to say that the Trustees would take the concerns raised by homeowners during Friday’s meeting into consideration before making a final decision.

Before closing the meeting, the Trustees agreed to set up a committee, made up of residents of Lakeside Lane, to provide input on the proposed land transfer. The members of the committee have yet to be determined, according to Town Trustee Eric Shultz.

If the proposed land transfer is completed, the life of the graveyard could be extended another 35 to 40 years, according to Gordon Werner, a member of the Westhampton Cemetery Association Board of Directors and director of Follett and Werner Funeral Home in Westhampton Beach. No money would change hands with the proposed transfer.

Tom DeMayo, a lawyer who is doing pro bono work for the Westhampton Cemetery Association, presented background information during Friday’s meeting, and also addressed some of the issues the proposed land swap presents. Though the land the Trustees own abuts Beaver Lake, Mr. DeMayo explained that if the transfer is approved, the association would install a natural buffer to prevent runoff from directly entering the lake.

Dennis Case, a resident of Westhampton who lives on Lakeside Lane, said he was concerned about there being an access point into the cemetery from Lakeside Lane.

Westhampton Cemetery Association Treasurer Tom Rogers explained that a new entrance would not be created on either Lakeside Lane or Station Road, the latter of which runs along the eastern border of the graveyard. Mr. Rogers said families would access the addition via the cemetery’s preexisting entrances and exits.

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