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Land debate lingers in Buckley
By Jessica Keller, The Courier-Herald
The future use of a vacant lot between the Buckley City Cemetery entrance and the National Guard armory on River Avenue still has not been decided.
Despite testimony from homeowners in the Copperwynd development, who provided their view of what the land should be used for, the Buckley Planning Commission passed the updated parks plan without any major amendments at its May 17 meeting.
It was not the first time the city has heard concerns from Copperwynd residents. At the April 27 City Council meeting, Copperwynd residents spoke about a supposed cemetery expansion.
According to the April edition of the Copperwynd newsletter, some homeowners were told by their real estate agents, the field on River Avenue would become a park, while others were told a certain amount of money per lot had been set aside for the construction of the park.
The issue came to light when a Copperwynd resident reportedly heard from a city representative that cemetery expansion was actually the intended use for the land.
The issue was then readdressed at the Planning Commission meeting as commissioners voted on the parks plan.
The parks plan provides guidelines for future parks services needed in Buckley, based on population projections and current services. The plan will be incorporated into the city's Comprehensive Plan later this year. It was voted on by the Buckley City Council at last night's (Tuesday) meeting, but results of that vote were not available before at press time.
During the public hearing portion of the May 17 Planning Commission meeting, two Copperwynd homeowners expressed their concerns. They said an expansion of the Buckley City Cemetery into the empty railroad-right-of way lot, across from the Copperwynd Development, could negatively impact their property values.
Those two homeowners, Ron Weigelt, who is also a Buckley City Councilman, and Larry Meaney, felt a more appropriate use for the empty lot would be a park.
Weigelt said other land in Buckley is available for cemetery expansion, and stated he thought a compromise could be reached to satisfy city needs to expand the cemetery and honor Copperwynd residents wishes to use the land as a park. He asked the Planning Commission, before voting on the parks plan, to designate that area of land as a potential park site.
Copperwynd resident Rhonda Madison, and her husband Jim, however, stated that opinion was not representative of the entire Copperwynd Development. An expansion of the cemetery would be a more practical and economical use for the land, they said.
But Weigelt stated all Copperwynd residents he spoke to felt the land should be used as a park and said a survey of Copperwynd residents supported that idea.
Jim Madison objected to that statement and asked Weigelt how many people had voted. Weigelt said 27 people voted in the survey and 67 percent supported the park idea, while 37 percent for cemetery expansion.
Rebuttal by the two opposing sides continued through the public hearing, with planning commission members occasionally asking questions and stating concerns, but commissioners were hesitant to amend the parks plan to incorporate the land across from Copperwynd.
Commissioners were concerned designating the land as a park might only be in the interest of a select group of Buckley residents, and said when addressing the future of Buckley's parks, they needed to take all citizens into account. They were also not convinced there was an immediate need to decide the issue then, depending on if and when the cemetery actually needed to expand.
Instead, commissioner Terry Wade proposed city staff look into the issue, study the availability of cemetery lots remaining, look into all cemetery expansion options and come up with a timeframe in which the city would have to expand. Wade then suggested the matter be sent to the Parks and Cemetery Committee and the Planning Commission for consideration. After that, Wade said, a recommendation of future use of the land would be easier to make.
After the meeting, City Administrator Dave Schmidt said a decision on the land could be years away because there is not an immediate need for cemetery expansion.
Schmidt said he and other staff went to the cemetery last week after the meeting and counted the available cemetery lots. Schmidt said the cemetery currently has 330 available lots, and a maximum of 30 burials take place each year. He said as long as that rate continues, the cemetery may not need to expand for another 10 years. Schmidt also said there may be other areas within current cemetery boundaries available for expansion without moving out to the River Avenue land. That land will be surveyed in the future before a determination on its suitability could be made.
And in regard to the land across from Copperwynd, Schmidt said even though it may not be formally designated as a park, the land in question will be maintained in a "park-like manner" as part of the cemetery entrance development and landscaping projects. He also said more will be done in that area once the Foothills Trail is constructed through the cemetery, hopefully next year.
Jessica Keller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org