Washington County board OKs 'green' cemetery plan

The Washington County Courthouse is seen in Fayetteville in this undated file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County planners on Thursday unanimously approved a permit for a "green burial" cemetery on land near the north end of Honeysuckle Road in the Nob Hill area.

The Planning Board approved the request for a permit for the cemetery project. Land in unincorporated Washington County is zoned for agricultural and single-family residential use. Any other use requires the property owner to get a permit from the county.

The permit request will be sent on to the Quorum Court for approval.

According to the permit information, the state Health Department requires site review and approval of plans for cemetery use. If the county approves the permit, the plans will be submitted to the Health Department.

Planning Board member Philip Humbard said the board voted on the request before them and on the matters within the authority of the county.

"We're either approving a cemetery or we're not,"Humbard said. "We have nothing to do with how people are buried. That's all in the purview of the state."

The permit was sought by Mike and Jane-Ellen Ross. Plans call for about 9.2 acres of the 39 acres to be used for the conservation earth burial cemetery. The permit said the site "will have the appearance of an upland meadow, with no upright monuments or headstones."

The proposed cemetery calls for biodegradable caskets or no caskets, shallow graves, no vaults and no headstone markers.

County records show a cemetery on property adjacent to the proposed cemetery. The Joyce Cemetery has some grave sites more than 150 years old, according to the report.

Several nearby residents objected to the proposal, noting the rural character of the area and questioning the idea of placing bodies in shallow graves where animals might disturb them.

Supporters of the concept said it was a return to a more natural process. They also said the state doesn't require embalming, caskets or vaults and the green burial cemetery will have to comply with all state regulations.

According to the staff report, the Beaver Water District worked with the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust to obtain the conservation easement. The Water District submitted a comment form stating "impacts from the planned conservation earth burial cemetery will be minimal compared to other land practices."

According to the planning staff report, all neighbors within 300 feet of the property were notified. Notification went to eight neighbors, with two being the applicants and one to the Joyce Cemetery. According to the staff report, 14 comment forms were received on the permit plan with 12 in favor and two opposed.

The planning staff recommended approval.

Also Thursday, the Planning Board approved plans for the Blackburn Community Covenant Church using an acre of a 41-acre parcel in southern Washington County, north of Arkansas 74 near Devils Den.

The board also approved a permit for Genesis Countertop, a granite countertop fabrication business, in the old White River Cafe building at Habberton Road and Guy Terry Road. The board voted 5-1 to approve the permit for the business.

NW News on 11/08/2019

Green burial

Proponents of “green burial” practices argue the concept is a return to burial practices normal for thousands of years. Green burial prohibits chemical embalming, allows only bio-degradable burial containers and uses shallow graves to allow for natural decomposition of the body.

Source: Natural State Burial Association