What should a cemetery look like? City plans meeting to discuss decoration rules

photo by: Nick Krug

Several decorations along with floral arrangements decorate a headstone on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, at Oak Hill Cemetery.

City officials say grave decorations at the city’s cemeteries are getting out of hand, and the city is looking for public input about what it should do to manage the cemeteries’ appearance.

The Parks and Recreation Department oversees three cemeteries — Oak Hill, Maple Grove and Memorial Park — and already has rules regarding decorations, including limits on the type and placement of decorations, but those rules have not been strictly enforced.

Parks and Recreation Director Derek Rogers said the city has received complaints that its enforcement of rules regarding decorations has been lax. The city will be having a public forum next week to discuss the rules, including potential changes, and ultimately plans to step up enforcement.

Rogers said the cemetery rules have changed over time, with the most recent update occurring in 2015. He said differences of opinion existed regarding what type of decorations should be allowed, with some people wanting very limited decorations and others the opposite.

“Other people have been saying, ‘Hey, for 35 years, I’ve been decorating this grave this way, so why do I have to change it now?'” Rogers said. “We’ve got a diversity of opinion on what a cemetery should look like.”

The rules and regulations detail what forms of flowers and decorations are allowed as well as how long they will be left before being removed by Parks and Rec staff. The rules don’t allow certain decorations, such as shepherd hooks, hanging baskets and glass containers, and state that all decorations must be placed within six inches of the grave marker. Rules also require owners to obtain permission from cemetery personnel to plant permanent plants, such as shrubs, trees, ground cover and flowers. Other physical structures or material, such as fencing, mulch or gravel, are not allowed.

Mitch Young, park district supervisor for the cemeteries, said the issues include the type, amount and placement of decorations. He said one of the issues is the amount of plastic and glass trinkets left, sometimes for years, at graves. He said some individuals even have decorations placed beyond their lots.

“What we are looking at trying to do is clean up the general appearance and limit the amount of decorations that do not meet the current rules and regulations,” Young said. He added that the trinkets also create issues for maintenance staff when they are trimming and mowing.

Initially, the city announced it would start enforcing the rules regarding acceptable decorations beginning Sept. 17, after which city staff would be collecting items remaining in the cemeteries and storing them for 90 days before discarding them. However, Rogers said that he got a lot of phone calls following the announcement and that the department would now be having the meeting to discuss the rules, including potential changes.

Rogers said that while some rules, such as the ban on glass items, aren’t negotiable, there may be some other elements that could be more flexible or others that could be more strictly enforced, if that’s what the public would like to see.

“Part of the process is, let’s have a public forum to discuss what’s appropriate in the cemetery,” Rogers said. “There are rules in the cemetery that are for maintenance and safety reasons that need to stay in place, but there may be other rules that the community may be willing to do some compromises with.”

The city’s cemetery rules and regulations are available on the parks and recreation website. The meeting to discuss the cemetery rules will take place from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Carnegie Building, 200 W. Ninth St.


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