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Feb 4, 2009 11:29 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Town Trustees reject land swap with Westhampton Cemetery Association

Feb 4, 2009 11:29 AM

The Southampton Town Trustees have rejected a land swap involving the Westhampton Cemetery Association, ending two years of negotiations that, if approved, would have allowed the association to expand its graveyard that is nearly filled to capacity.

On January 28, the Town Trustees dismissed the association’s suggestion that the two parties exchange a pair of 2-acre properties near the Westhampton Cemetery—one that is owned by the association and another by the Trustees. Cemetery officials stated that the trade was necessary to expand the graveyard, which has fewer than 50 burial plots remaining.

Specifically, Westhampton Cemetery Association officials had hoped to trade their land, which they had purchased about two years ago for $190,000 and is located off Station Road, with a similar-sized parcel that the Town Trustees own and abuts the cemetery’s northern boundary.

Cemetery officials noted that the transfer would have created 1,500 new burial plots, or 9,000 ash internment sites, immediately north of the cemetery grounds. They estimated that the land swap would have extended the life of the graveyard by as much as 40 years, without requiring the exchange of money.

“Hopefully, we’ll get enough community support to make the Trustees change their mind,” said Gordon Werner, a member of the Westhampton Cemetery Association’s Board of Directors and the director of Follett and Werner Funeral Home in Westhampton Beach. “We would be willing to abide to any restrictions [on the property], but they didn’t give us any,” he added. “They just shut the door.”

Noting that he opposed the transfer since it was first suggested two years ago, Trustee Eric Shultz explained this week that the town-owned property has too much environmental value to be compromised by the digging of graves. The town property features a “mature hardwood forest” and borders Beaver Lake, which is used by kayakers, Mr. Shultz said.

“They need a dedicated, larger spot somewhere in town that could be a full-scale cemetery,” Mr. Shultz said, noting that the root systems of trees would be disturbed by grave-digging. “This is one of most pristine wetlands areas that we have in the town.”

Attorney Tom DeMayo, who serves as legal counsel for the Westhampton Cemetery Association, dismissed the concerns about the environment.

“That’s ludicrous,” Mr. DeMayo said. “I don’t agree that this would disturb the environment. There’s a cemetery there now.

“We’re not going to bury people close to the water,” he continued.

A 50-foot-wide natural buffer now separates the cemetery from Beaver Lake, though Mr. Shultz explained that the graveyard predates several restrictions designed to protect the waterway from pollution. Trustee President Jon Semlear stressed this week that his board is still willing to assist the association in finding another suitable property on which the graveyard can be expanded.

But Mr. DeMayo noted that if a resolution is not reached soon, ownership of the Westhampton Cemetery, a section of which faces Montauk Highway, would revert to Southampton Town. Ryan Horn, a spokesman for the town, confirmed that ownership of the cemetery would be transferred the to town once all of the burial plots are filled.

Mr. Werner stated that the association’s 2-acre lot, which is landlocked, is not an ideal property on which to expand the graveyard. Either the Town Trustees, or other property owners whose land borders the lot, would have to grant an easement to the association so it can access the property. Mr. Shultz noted that the association’s property is environmentally sensitive as well, suggesting that officials will have a tough time obtaining the easement.

Cemetery officials also noted that they would have to navigate a lengthy application process with New York State in order to make their parcel an official part of the existing cemetery.

There are other properties available to the association, including part of a large swath of land located north of Montauk Highway, where the old Bailey’s Motel stands, as well as a 2-acre parcel that is located south of both Montauk Highway and the cemetery, according to Mr. DeMayo.

Mary Wilson, the Community Preservation Fund manager for Southampton Town, said the motel property totals 32 acres. The town is currently in negotiations to buy that land and Ms. Wilson said she could not disclose its value.

Ms. Wilson emphasized that the CPF cannot be tapped to purchase land for a cemetery. She explained that if the town closes on the motel property, a section would have to be sold to either the town or the Westhampton Cemetery Association. “They would have to work with the Town Board if they wanted to do that,” Ms. Wilson added.

Another 2-acre parcel that runs between Mill Road and Montauk Highway, just north of the 7-Eleven on Mill Road, could also be used to expand the cemetery, according to Mr. DeMayo.

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What?!!? Isn't that other "2-acre parcel that runs between Mill Road and Montauk Highway, just north of the 7-Eleven on Mill Road," the shape-up area for the undocumented Americans looking for day work?

Is that what former Justice DeMayo is suggesting be used as a burial area?
By Frank Wheeler (1796), Northampton on Feb 4, 09 9:29 AM
The Trustees have exposed themselves as being unable to make tough decisions when the long range interests of the Town of Southampton and it's native citizens are at risk. They have betrayed their own oath and have made a gross miscalculation. Give that they are all up for re-election this November they evidently thought that this would be a popular decision. Exactly the opposite is true.

A lot of people are going to be concerned this November when they realize that this group of elected ...more
By foodie (74), Remsenburg on Feb 4, 09 11:17 AM
WE'LL REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER

The Trustees of the Town of Southampton have committed a grievous error in their wanton disregard for all the families of Westhampton and their deceased relatives now in eternal rest at the community's only cemetery.

How come WHB resident Brian Tymann, a Southampton Town Trustee from Westhampton, hasn't stood up for his neighbors and residents here against the selfishness of the Town Trustees as they try by their actions to shut down the Westhampton ...more
By Oshaunnessey (11), Westhampton on Feb 10, 09 8:17 PM
Oshaunnessey - call me and I'll explain to you exactly why I didn't support the land swap. Also, read my letter to the Editor in last week's Press - I explain it very thoroughly. But don't let it deter you from calling me - if you're going to question my commitment to my community, the least you can do is have a conversation with me so I can tell what you're wrong about in your assessment of my decision. I will be happy to explain, and you will probably quickly understand that our decision has NOTHING ...more
By briantymann (27), westhampton beach on Feb 23, 09 7:07 PM
None of your scare tactics about being re-elected phase me, ladies and gents. I do what I think is right, plain and simple. Assuming that I make my decisions based on getting votes is pathetic and inaccurate. I make my decisions based on fact, my outlined duties as a Town Trustee, and what I feel is right.
A conversation always beats letters to the Editor and making comments online, even though the latter are easier. However; feel free to call me to discuss your concerns if you'd like.
Brian
By briantymann (27), westhampton beach on Feb 23, 09 7:44 PM