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Waynesville’s cemetery policy revamp begins

Big changes could come to Waynesville’s Green Hill Cemetery, and the town wants to hear from you. Big changes could come to Waynesville’s Green Hill Cemetery, and the town wants to hear from you. Cory Vaillancourt photo

Proposed changes to and clarifications of cemetery ordinances prompted by public outcry in Waynesville will undergo a period of public comment before possible adoption by the town’s Board of Aldermen.

Toward the end of 2018, family members with burial plots in Waynesville’s historic Green Hill Cemetery were taken by surprise when a proscribed cleanup resulted in flowers, lights, statues and other adornments being cleared from gravesites. After a contentious and emotional town meeting featuring extensive public criticism, the town responded by establishing an ad-hoc committee to reassess management of the cemetery.

That committee met 13 times between May 16, 2019 and Nov. 7, 2019 — exactly as many times as the Board of Aldermen itself, Assistant Town Manager Amie Owens told Mayor Gary Caldwell and Aldermen John Feichter, Chuck Dickson and Anthony Sutton during a presentation this past Tuesday.

As they worked through the existing ordinance — Chapter 18 — the committee not only clarified some ambiguities, but also included some new provisions seen as a direct response to the complaints lodged in 2018. Among them are the complete elimination of commercial tours, a reversal on previous language that banned lights and a concept called “memorial boxes” that provide a way for loved ones to leave mementoes without disrupting the efficiency of taxpayer-funded groundskeeping operations.

Currently, the proposed changes remain just that — proposed. If 2018 is any indication, there will be a prolonged period of debate over the many alterations and additions to the existing ordinance.

During that same Jan. 14 meeting, aldermen also converted the “ad hoc” Cemetery Committee into a standing committee; the seven members who currently serve were appointed by application and will continue to serve until June 30, 2020, which is the end of the fiscal year. After that, seven more members will be appointed by a process similar to every other standing committee’s, serving terms from one to three years.

The Cemetery Committee will also assume responsibility for Dix Hill Cemetery, which was historically Waynesville’s segregated African-American cemetery.

Ownership of the property isn’t clear and despite the town already contributing some upkeep to it, the knobby plot — which may contain thousands of unmarked graves — has fallen into disrepair.

The revamped cemetery ordinance will be presented for public comment in a pair of meetings, scheduled for Jan. 28 and Feb. 11.

There’s more to this story – look for it in the next issue of The Smoky Mountain News, on stands and online Wednesday. Jan. 22.

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