Some residents of Sleepy Hollow Manor are opposing Sleepy Hollow Cemetery’s acquiring 12.5 acres from the Laurance Rockefeller Estate. They say they are concerned about potential environmental impacts and loss of property taxes, and have claimed that the Village’s rezoning of the land from residential to cemetery purposes was without adequate notice and illegal.
I’d like to thank the River Journal for the opportunity to respond to these concerns.
Recognizing the historic importance of the Cemetery, the Estate of Laurance Rockefeller contracted to sell 12.5 acres north of the existing Cemetery at a very attractive price. At the request of the Estate, and after public notice, hearings on a zoning change were held by the Waterfront Advisory Committee, the Planning Board, and the Village Board of Trustees. All unanimously approved the change and on June 24, 2008, the Village Board of Trustees approved rezoning for cemetery use. Village Architect and Building Inspector Sean McCarthy has confirmed that the rezoning complied with the law.
As part of the Village’s approval of the change in zoning last year, a site plan must be approved, with public notice and full environmental review, before there can be any development of this land. The Planning Board will consider the environmental impacts as they may relate to the wetlands, steep slopes, tree removals, and drainage.
The volunteer board of the Cemetery, all of whom are active members of this community, is very much aware of the need to be sensitive to the environment. It will fully comply with the law and intends to be a leader in "green" practices. For example, this fall the Cemetery will be one of the first in New York in offering meadow and wooded areas for natural burials. No embalming will be allowed and all natural materials, such as shrouds and biodegradable caskets, will be used.
We also wish to preserve the natural beauty of this area. A preliminary environmental survey shows that the majority of the land being acquired cannot be developed because of steep slopes, rock outcroppings, wetlands, and wetlands buffer areas.
It will be many years before the Cemetery is in the position to prepare a site plan. We expect that by the time the Cemetery has the resources to propose a plan, environmental concerns and new customs will cause dramatic changes in burial practices. There are many potential uses for the additional land other than traditional burials, such as natural burials and family plots or mausoleums, all which would require different plans. It makes no sense to make plans today that will not meet future community needs.
The Village Board of Trustees carefully considered loss of tax revenues when the land was rezoned. The land had residential zoning and, with wetland and steep slope restrictions, as well as need for access from Route 9, no more than two houses, if any, could be built there. It is more likely that the area would remain undeveloped land, paying very little in taxes. The bigger concern for the residents of Sleepy Hollow should be that many failing cemeteries in New York have had to have been taken over by town governments and are maintained on tax revenues. In the event that Sleepy Hollow Cemetery fails, the law provides that the property must be taken over by the Town of Mt. Pleasant. This would cause our taxes to increase. The Cemetery is doing all it can to assure this doesn’t happen by adding a community mausoleum, responding to changing needs in offering natural burials, and purchasing the only land available for future expansion.
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, a non-profit and non-sectarian organization founded in 1849, where approximately 40,000 are buried, is a place of remembrance of both the famous and unknown, and has the remains of veterans from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq War. It is a refuge of peace and quiet, a sculpture garden, a bird sanctuary, an arboretum, and a park land. Those who have chosen this place for themselves and their loved ones deserve to be assured the Cemetery will remain a beautiful and valued part of our community for generations to come.