The Village of Old Westbury Board of Trustees on Monday unanimously approved the entry piers and gates for the highly contested Queen of Peace cemetery, but the gate’s dimensions had to be altered before approval.
Walter Sieber, senior project manager at Cameron Engineering, proposed a 6-and-a-half-foot granite pier topped with concrete and a wrought iron gate with a sloping crest in the center peaking at 7 feet. However, trustees approved the gate and piers only if all measurements are no higher than 6-and-a-half feet, including the crest.
“Code is code, and the code says 6 foot 6,” Mayor Fred Carillo said of the design. “We’ll have to consider that, but you’ll have to consider lowering it.”
Trustees approved the plan for the 87.6-acre cemetery at 31 Hitchcock Lane last November after a 22-year legal battle. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre has owned the land since 1995 and has fought in federal court for the right to build on it. Federal courts determined that under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the diocese has a right to build a cemetery on the land.
“This application went on for 25 years, and the diocese took us to federal court and they won,” Carillo said. “There’s a law that gives them preference. We cannot deny them a cemetery.”
After a heated meeting in May, the diocese’s attorney, Jeff Forchelli, returned to Old Westbury with changes to the plan based on complaints from residents bordering the cemetery, including some about traffic on Hitchcock Lane.
The property currently has an entrance and exit on Hitchcock Lane near Langley Lane that will be closed, Forchelli said, and a left-turn exit only will be placed approximately 800 feet further south, across from the Westbury High School gymnasium driveway. Multiple signs will be placed outside the cemetery forbidding entrance from Hitchcock Lane, and a mountable curb will be placed to the right of the driveway, forcing traffic to the left and onto Jericho Turnpike instead of through the village.
Dietra Middleton of Langley Lane was concerned that the signs and curb will not be enough to deter people from turning right even if it is illegal.
“There’s been a lot of talk, a lot of engineering, reviewing what kind of exit there would be heading out onto Hitchcock to make it conducive to only make a left turn,” Forchelli said. “There will be plenty of signage and a raised curb which will block traffic from being able to make a right-hand turn onto Hitchcock. If someone wants to violate that, it’s going to be much harder to do it, and I think the fact that this exit is 800 feet south of the existing exit also makes it much more conducive to get onto Jericho Turnpike rather than make an illegal right turn and up through the village to get to the expressway.”
The only legal entrance to the cemetery will be a gated driveway from Jericho Turnpike, and all funeral directors will be required to use this for entrances and exits. Forchelli said the reason for the Hitchcock Lane exit is to give drivers a way to head east on Jericho Turnpike at a traffic light.
Many residents, including Minoo Farahani of Langley Lane, complained that this would decrease property values for the surrounding area.
“None of you guys live there. You don’t know how it is,” Farahani said. “Everything is so simple for you, but for the rest of us, it’s not a convenient place to live. It’s very unfair, we have a horrible school district and now you have this dumping on us? It makes no sense.
“And in 50 years it’s going to be a safe place to live because it will be saturated with graves and nobody else is going to want to come here. How about us now? I have children there. I don’t want to drive by a cemetery every day. I wish I had left and gone to Hempstead.”
Forchelli said the diocese has a 50-year plan for the cemetery, beginning in the southwest corner of the property and working north over time. Carillo and Forchelli both agreed that with the berms, vegetation and trees surrounding the edges of the cemetery, it will be difficult to see anything on the property from the road.
“I think the plan that you approved in November — it took 25 years to get there, but it’s a very good plan,” Forchelli said. “It protects the surrounding areas. It provides plenty of screening, the groundwater is taken care of, and it was done over a long period of time with a lot of hard effort.”