Cemetery's concrete wall has neighbors furious

A concrete wall that sprung up in recent months at the back of the Kings Highway Cemetery has angered residents, who say it is an eyesore that should never have been allowed.

The cemetery association argues that the work received the proper city permits and is needed to run the cemetery.

City officials said that while permits were issued, the full breadth of the work done at the cemetery was not completely rendered on plans that were approved. So the cemetery association has to go back to the drawing board and resubmit plans, and possibly go through a public hearing before it gets the city’s OK to use the new work area.
The neighbors say
Lisa Jackson and Doug Gaudiosi live on Spruce Street, which is right behind the cemetery. There used to be a wooden fence and trees at the rear of their yard. Now there is 10.5-foot-high wall made of concrete blocks that is only partially hidden by a new white fence the cemetery installed for them.

They and other neighbors with a view of the concrete blocks are furious.

Jackson said that in the spring of 2015 a cemetery representative approached them about giving them an easement for power to a storage shed they were building to house equipment. She and her husband agreed, the cemetery association was very accommodating, and at the end, they had a nice new fence.

“All was good,” said Jackson.

But over Columbus Day weekend the wall of concrete blocks went up: It was 100 feet by 10.5 feet high by 30 feet, spanning three properties, and just 10 feet from her property line, Jackson said.

Neighbors went to the Board of Appeals in November to try to reverse the P&Z decision that allowed the structure to be built, but they didn’t get anywhere. Pamela Hunter, who also lives on Spruce Street, told the board that what was built did not reflect the approved plans. According to meeting minutes, she said she hoped the board would order that the wall be removed. Others told the board they hadn’t received notice about the wall going up, and some called it a blight on the neighborhood.

Zoning Enforcement Officer Stephen Harris pointed out technical problems with the neighbors’ appeal, and he said that other than a deviation to the original plan regarding the placement of the concrete block wall due to proximity to the wetlands, the approved plans were adhered to.

So the neighbors went home, but they have been fighting, writing letters, and contacting agencies like the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection about the work and pointing out errors they say the city made in approving the plans.

In the meantime, they said, they have to look at an ugly wall of concrete, and bear the sound of trucks doing work and backing up — sounds they didn’t hear before 2015.

The cemetery association says

Jim Beard, president of the cemetery association, said the wall of concrete blocks is actually the back side of a storage bin for composting. In the fall, the groundskeepers pick up leaves, most of which, Beard said, come from neighbors’ yards. They also put the fill from graves into the concrete bins for storage until it is placed back inside the grave.

He argues that the cemetery association’s No. 1 obligation is to the people buried at the cemetery, the people who will be buried there and their families. Up to 75 people a day visit the cemetery and it needs to look good, and the cemetery needs to function, he said.

He’s proud of the maintenance and upkeep there.

So he’s frustrated and disappointed for being treated as the “bad guy.”

“We are a non-profit public cemetery, incorporated as a cemetery in 1923,” Beard said. “As such, we have been doing nothing different in the rear of the property for at least the last 75 years that the maintenance of the graves has required.”

Beard said the association has been using concrete blocks as storage bins for years, but he said foliage used to hide them.

“It used to be dense back there, and over time some of the neighbors started clearing to expand their back yards, and in some cases encroached,” Beard said.

“Then we removed some of our trees that were on the invasive species list,” he added.

He said he didn’t expect the recent work would create such animosity.
“We always thought the [new] plantings would be an improvement,” he said. “All good intentions, but perhaps too much change too quickly.”

Beard said the association has taken neighbors’ complaints seriously and has made “significant efforts to address and correct complaints.”

Those measures include doubling the number of trees the association had intended to plant around the concrete block wall, and agreeing to remove one layer of concrete blocks so the structure won’t be as tall. However, he admitted that it will take time for the trees to grow and hide the view, and he said the top layer of blocks won’t come down until spring.

Of the new storage facility, he said they spent extra money to make it look more like a house.

“Time is going to resolve this,” Beard said. “Once the plantings take off, they’re not going to see it.

“Time is a great healer,” Beard added.

“We have always been cognizant of our neighbors and have addressed drainage problems over the years due to the dramatic grade change (10 feet plus) in the properties,” Beard said. “At the same time, we have continued to improve the appearance and the integrity of our public cemetery, one that promotes respectfulness and dignity, and where a family can be proud and relieved where their loved ones are at rest.”
The city’s land use director says
Milford Director of Public Land Use Joseph Griffith explained the history of the project. He said the cemetery board submitted drawings in 2002 for a storage facility and columbarium, which was built after a permit was issued. Other parts of the project were not completed then.

The site drawings dated May 3, 2001, show the concrete block bins in the originally approved location (to the north) and describe them as “concrete block” and as “existing bins.”

Griffith speculated that the board may have overlooked the bins and not questioned their height  because they were described as “existing.”

In 2014, the cemetery association sought to pick up where it left off, and went back to Inland Wetlands and then to P&Z, Griffith said. In early 2015, the P&Z saw the modifications as minor and issued the permit based on the 2002 approval.

The P&Z could have ruled that another public hearing was required, but it did not.

Now city officials are considering the concrete storage bins a structure like a retaining wall, and therefore the association has been asked to submit drawings and details about the construction. In order to receive a certificate of occupancy and to legally use the storage bins and the new storage shed, the association needs to prove that the bins were built to code.

What next
Amended construction documents must be submitted to the city’s building department and then referred to Planning and Zoning and Inland Wetlands. Work impacting the wetlands will be reviewed, and the Inland Wetlands Agency will determine whether the matter is referred to the commission, or the applicant may choose to make the work compliant with the originally approved plan, Griffith said.

“Depending on the magnitude of the amended construction documents (i.e., the extent of the change in grade, drainage, and height of the bin structure), the applicant may be referred to the P&Z commission under 7.2.10 of the Milford Zoning Regulations, who may either approve the (zoning-compliant) changes to the work or require a public hearing,” Griffith said.

Griffith will make the determination as to whether the wall of concrete bins was built to code.

“If zoning says you can’t put up a retaining wall, then it will come down,” Griffith said.