Catholic diocese seeks new variances for Old Westbury cemetery

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A model of the new cemetery layout. (Photo by Teri West)

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre is seeking to build the chapel and administrative building of its future 97-acre Old Westbury cemetery taller than originally planned, requiring new variances from the village.

The diocese also wants to modify the original plans for the layout of the cemetery’s center and is seeking to amend a special use permit to reflect the changes.

It presented revised plans to the village Board of Trustees for the first time Monday evening at a meeting that also included the announcement of a bid award for work at the pond on Post Road and discussion of a recent car theft.

Since the village approved development in 2016, there have been landscaping and installation of pavement and drainage on the Queen of Peace Cemetery property that sits next to Jericho Turnpike and Hitchcock Lane, said Catholic Cemeteries President Richard Bie.

Village code bans nonresidential buildings from exceeding 25 feet in height. Under the proposed new plan, the cemetery chapel steeples would be about 63 feet and the worship space would reach 35 feet, said Tribute Design Systems architect Zach Rasmussen. Unless it is built with a flat roof, the administration building would also exceed the 25-foot restriction.

Both buildings would be in a central oval of the cemetery that would be constructed in the upcoming first phase of work. Originally, the chapel was going to be at the north end of the oval and the administration building would be at the south. The new plan would reverse their positions, Rasmussen said.

“In order to be respectful of the neighbors, we felt it was important to incorporate the chapel, who had the most height, more towards the centralized portion of the site, therefore moving it away from the perimeter and limiting the views from the neighboring community,” he said.

There was originally going to be just one large mausoleum, or above-ground tomb, in the oval. Now, it would be a series of smaller ones.

Twelve-foot-high trees will be introduced at the northern border of the cemetery before any construction begins under a previous Board of Trustees request, said Cameron Engineering landscape architect Walter Sieber.

The cemetery was the center of a 20-year court battle that traversed New York Supreme Court and U.S. District Court after village officials rejected the cemetery in 1995. It ended just three years ago, according to Newsday.

Before the diocese purchased the property in 1996, it was a horse farm. Federal authorities seized it and put in up for auction after arresting its owners in a sting operation, according to a 1995 New York Times article. The owners thought they were selling the property to a drug dealer.

The first phase of cemetery construction would include six mausoleums in the oval. The oval would eventually be filled with more, Bie said.

The application is being reviewed by the Nassau County Planning Commission, village planner and village engineer, said village Attorney Michael Sahn.

The village board also authorized a bid award to Hicksville-based The Platinum Group to renovate the village pond on Post Road through efforts such as new fencing. The $167,275 award will be reimbursed by a $200,000 state grant, said Trustee Marina Chimerine.

The rest of the grant will support electrical work for installing a fountain in the pond and additional beautification efforts, she said.

“I think the residents will be quite satisfied once it’s done,” Chimerine said. “This has been in the works for over a year and now that’s approved we can certainly start to get going and renovate the pond.”

Old Westbury Police Lt. Thomas O’Shea reported that a car in the village with the key left inside was stolen June 6.

The owner located the car using GPS technology and police cornered the driver on the Long Island Expressway service road, O’Shea said.

One officer suffered a minor lower leg injury because the driver of the stolen vehicle hit police cars when attempting escape, O’Shea said.

“They attempted to box the driver in … the occupant of the vehicle threw the car into reverse, colliding with one of the police vehicles, threw the car into drive, collided with another vehicle,” O’Shea said. “As we got closer we were able to secure it.”

Nassau County police and New Jersey State Police were also involved, said Trustee Cory Baker.

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