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Aug 4, 2008 5:06 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Homeowner opposes Westhampton Cemetery land swap

Aug 4, 2008 5:06 PM

More than a dozen residents of Lakeside Lane in Westhampton attended Monday’s Southampton Town Trustees meeting to support a neighbor who spoke out against a proposed property swap that would entrust land bordering their street, now owned by the Trustees, to the Westhampton Cemetery Association.

Jeffrey Weitzman and his wife, Leslie, approached the Trustees on behalf of the Lakeside Friends of the Environment, an unofficial organization composed of residents of Lakeside Lane who are opposed to the proposed land swap. The Trustees and Westhampton Cemetery Association officials have been discussing the swap that involves a pair of 2-acre properties, one owned by the association and the other by the Town Trustees, for the past several weeks.

The main difference between the two parcels is that the town-owned land is adjacent to the graveyard, meaning that the cemetery could be easily expanded, while the other parcel is not. Cemetery association officials have stated that the proposed swap, if approved by the Town Trustees, could increase the number of burial plots by about 1,500 and allow the graveyard to continue to be used for another 35 to 40 years.

The Town Trustees all insisted on Monday that they have not made a decision on the matter and are still in a preliminary discussion stage. “We are listening,” Trustee President Jon Semlear said.

“It’s still extremely conceptual,” Trustee Brian Tymann added during the meeting.

Meanwhile, Trustee Ed Warner Jr. urged all members of the new committee to share their opinions with the entire board. “Written comments would be appreciated too,” he said.

Members of the Westhampton Cemetery Association were not aware that residents planned to speak about the issue this week and, therefore, did not attend Monday’s meeting. Tom Betjemann, the president of the association, said he was not even aware that the residents of the neighboring street had formed the informal committee.

“Not being aware that they had a meeting, it’s very hard to comment because we were not aware of those questions,” Mr. Betjemann said on Tuesday. “They haven’t brought anything to us yet.”

Tom DeMayo, the attorney representing the Westhampton Cemetery Association, could not be immediately reached for comment.

During his speech on Monday afternoon, Mr. Weitzman outlined the reasons he and others are against the land swap. “We believe that the proposed exchange is bad for the environment, bad for the residents of Lakeside, and unfairly and unlawfully favors one group to the extreme detriment of another,” Mr. Weitzman said as he read from a prepared statement.

While making one of his points, Mr. Weitzman noted that, in 1990, Southampton Town had insisted that the land currently owned by the Trustees be preserved as a precursor to the Lakeside Lane property being subdivided into 36 lots. He explained that “the Town of Southampton insisted that the wetlands and upland parcel bordering the cemetery be designated as a park on the Lakeside subdivision” as a condition to develop the land.

Mr. Weitzman added that the possible runoff of pesticides and fertilizers into Beaver Lake, which abuts the property owned by the Town Trustees, will harm the water and nearby wetlands. “It provides a hydrogeological flow to the wetlands, which if disturbed by the development and use of the park parcel for the cemetery operations, could result in irreparable damage to the wetlands,” he said.

Mr. Weitzman then cited the lack of an independent study assessing the value of the two properties. In addition, Mr. Weitzman dismissed claims that it would be difficult for the cemetery association to designate the land that it already owns, and does not adjoin the existing graveyard, as a new cemetery. In previous interviews, cemetery association officials have stated that it would be a lengthy process because they must then register the addition as a brand new cemetery with New York State.

“The entire review process is expected to take only six weeks,” Mr. Weitzman said.

In his closing statement, Mr. Weitzman noted that the Westhampton Cemetery Association should search for an alternative location for its expansion project. “We recommend that the Town of Southampton work with the cemetery association to find a more suitable location,” he said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Betjemann said he would like to discuss the issue with homeowners of Lakeside Avenue to see if some sort of a compromise can be reached. “I would like to, at some time, have a meeting with the organization and work something out with them,” he said.

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