Roanoke Rapids City Council Tuesday erred when it turned down a rezoning request which could have possibly given the owner of Crestview Cemetery the opportunity to expand her business.
The rejection of the rezoning put the kibosh on moving to the next step in the process — a public hearing on the subsequent conditional use permit.
It would have been during that process opponents to the proposal would have had to present compelling evidence beyond irrational fears of living next to a graveyard or perceptions their property values would decline as reasons they were against the CUP.
Sandy Showalter, owner of the cemetery, presented compelling evidence on why the rezoning should have been approved and the CUP should have been approved as well.
Instead, council thwarted the possible expansion of a longtime business.
We get it. People aren't necessarily crazy about living next to a cemetery. But it's an irrational fear and Crestview is not a typical cemetery.
Visit there and you don't see the tombstones. You see a well-kept memorial garden which could deceive the unsuspecting into thinking it's just another pleasant park we have in the city.
Showalter, her employee Trudy Jones and her Realtor Jenger Adams came armed with the necessary information which should have made council not hesitate to approve the rezoning and the CUP.
Showalter learned she would be able to plan for access directly from Smith Church Road to the area of Anna Louise Lane and the 8 acres of land, eliminating the need to impact the medical offices located there.
From the start of the process she was amenable, and would be required, to put up screening to shield the land in question from those whose property would abutt the proposed expansion area.
Then there is the question of the five plots of land which make up the approximately 8 acres Showalter has been eyeing for the expansion.
Adams told council the land in question has been listed for 2,335 days and no offers have been made.
She said the vegetation has grown up. Had the rezoning and CUP passed it would have been an undertaking to get the land prepared for the expansion.
Now the only recourse Showalter has is to take the matter to superior court for an appeal or wait another year and take the matter through the process again.
Showalter had plans to make the land as pleasant and appealing as the main grounds of Crestview currently are — well-maintained and a peaceful place for the families of the deceased to come and visit their loved ones.
Now we wonder how long the land for the proposed expansion will go undeveloped. Will it be another six years?
Crestview needs the expansion. In five years it is estimated they will be out of room. Stacking graves, as one person suggested during the rezoning hearing, is not an option and it is not in keeping with the style of the perpetual care cemetery.
An effort to expand in 2015, an effort which council backed, failed because of wetlands in the proposed expansion area. It would have cost Showalter more than $120,000 per acre to mitigate the wetlands issue, an exorbitant amount when you consider there is land across Smith Church Road which is available and would be well-suited for the endeavor.
We don't believe opponents to the project would have been able to produce anything remotely close to legally binding evidentiary arguments had the proposal reached the CUP phase Tuesday.
Just saying not in my backyard isn't enough. Just saying I'm scared of graveyards isn't enough. Just ignoring the plans and the intentions of Showalter to accommodate the residents whose property adjoins the site isn't enough.
The owner of Crestview earnestly stated during the planning board meeting and again during city council she was willing to make concessions.
Now she has to go back to the table, rethink her plans for expansion or face the harsh reality of closing her facility when five years pass and land which has sat idle for six years is readily available simply because council erred when it turned down the rezoning request — Editor