Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Dec. 11, 2000

Private cemetery permit tabled until January

By Gail Lipe

The maintenance of small private cemeteries has been a sore spot in the Glencoe area. Future maintenance issues are a part of the battle Ralph Picha faces in establishing a family cemetery on his property in Section 4 of Glencoe Township.

The McLeod County Planning Advisory Commission tabled a family cemetery conditional use permit (CUP) Picha applied for at its meeting last Wednesday.

Larry Gasow, McLeod County zoning administrator, said cemeteries are allowed in agricultural land. He said a special record is not required, but approval is required from the Minnesota Department of Health.

He said a plan has to be submitted that addresses the depth of burial, whether or not the bodies will be embalmed, the type of burial, whether or not vaults will be used, a detailed survey marking the cemetery with graves and roads, access to the cemetery and how it will be maintained. Once the Department of Health approves it, a conditional use could be approved.

Picha said the farm has been in the family for 126 years. He said the cemetery he is proposing would include enough plots for himself, his wife, his children and spouses and their children. Only direct descendants would be buried there.

He said he would be willing to set up a perpetual maintenance easement and fund that stays with the farm so if it is sold, the buyer has to continue the maintenance.

McLeod County Commissioner Ray Bayerl said there have not been any private cemeteries established in the county in the last 30 years. "Why do you think you want a private cemetery instead of using what is available?" he said.

"I always wanted to be planted out there," said Picha. "As long as the state allows it, why shouldn't I?"

Commission member Richard Schmidtbauer said it could cause a lot of problems in the future. He said, as a veteran, Picha could be buried at Fort Snelling or Camp Ripley for nothing.

"I don't want to be buried there," said Picha.

Picha has been doing research through the mortuary sciences division of the Department of Health, funeral homes, churches that have cemeteries and the state statutes on cemeteries.

He said there is a statute that addresses public cemeteries, and there is nothing that would prohibit him from plotting a private cemetery.

He also said mortuary sciences told him there are no rules on being embalmed if the body is buried within 72 hours, or there is no public viewing.

The body needs to have a minimum of 18 inches of cover, and vaults are not required. Picha said a grave box was recommended.

Gasow said, if the request would be approved, issues to be addressed include placing a maximum amount of sites; maintaining it as a private, non-profit cemetery for family only; the use of sealed vaults should be required; a hard surfaced road to the site would need to be built and maintained; a buffer would need to be established around the perimeter of the cemetery; and a survey would need to be done with the cemetery being recorded.

Commission member James Hueser said there would have to be a lot of records kept so people would know where others are buried.

Picha talked about a computerized recordkeeping system that would keep track of previous grave sites so they would not be disturbed.

"It sounds like he (Picha) has done a lot of research," said Bayerl.

Picha said he is trying to meet the state and the Department of Health regulations to implement the cemetery. "I am even willing to set up a perpetual maintenance fund, even though it is not required," he said.

Marjorie Hemmann, adjacent property owner, said she was concerned about the impact on her feed lot. "What if, on the day you are burying a body, I am injecting manure?" she said. "Will I get complaints?"

She also said she thought her property value would go down with a cemetery so close, and wondered who would police the cemetery so only direct descendants would be buried there.

Picha said he was not concerned about property value going down. He did not think the cemetery would affect the value.

Heuser said he was concerned about setting a precedent that would encourage more private cemeteries.

Gasow suggested tabling the issue until Picha received an approved plan from the state and attached it to the CUP application. "Then we have verification that the state OK'd the project," he said.

Picha's private cemetery will be addressed again at the planning advisory commission's Jan. 31 meeting.

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