Commissioners struggle with issue of burying family at home

After two work sessions and little headway deciding a proper course to take, the Sweet Home Planning Commission is punting €“ to the City Council €“ on the issue of how the city should respond to a new state law that allows property owners to create family burial plots.

The new law allows for burial on private property outside of cemeteries if it meets criteria with approval of local planning commissions, although local jurisdictions may prohibit this, said Community Development Director Carol Lewis. Approval authority could be granted to staff.

Allowing the burials raises a number of issues and concerns, Lewis said, and planning commissioners haven’t been able to resolve them.

Among the problems is the amount of time it can take for approval, Lewis said.

“I’ve no idea the cost of having a mortuary hold them (during the approval process).”

It also raises environmental and health concerns, she said, and down the line, someone may want to visit grandma in a private family plot even though the family no longer owns the property. That means easements may be required.

Commissioners have raised concerns about high ground water, slide areas, which yards where it may be allowed, whether it would be allowed inside or outside setback areas and what it might do to property values.

At the same time, the location of potential gravesites must be recorded and tracked to prevent construction over the top of the grave, for example, when a subdivision is platted and built, she said, and that’s all before considering possible religious rights questions.

Notice to neighbors would depend on the process used for approving the family plots, Lewis said. If allowed as an outright use, there may be no notification requirement at all.

“Right now, (the Planning Commission’s) inclination is to say, ‘No, it’s not allowed in Sweet Home,'” Lewis said. To prohibit the family plots, the council would need to approve an ordinance to be filed with the state.

“It’s so wrapped up in emotional issues, you don’t want to be trying to make a decision when someone wants to use it,” Lewis said. “It’s volatile. I can’t even get consensus among our seven as to what would be the right thing to do.”

With extended families, plots could include 10, 12 or 15 people, all in the backyard, she said. “There’s a lot of issues that come up.”

Lewis said she’s not necessarily opposed to the concept, but coming up with criteria that will work is what’s difficult.

The commission has spent a couple of hours discussing the issue, Lewis said. “The conclusion is we think the best answer for Sweet Home is going to be, ‘No.'”

And that means the council will need to act, she said.