Jewish Center Seeks to Expand Cemetery
Assuming the demand keeps up and the supply stays where it is, the Jewish Center of the Hamptons will run out of places to bury its congregants in about 10 years.
The center’s cemetery, Shaarey Pardes Accabonac Grove in Springs, contains 1,182 burial plots, only 300 of which are not yet spoken for. “Over the last seven years, I sell an average of 30 a year,” Diane Wiener, the center’s director of development, said on Friday, “so we’d run out in 10 years.”
On Oct. 17, the East Hampton Town Planning Board discussed the center’s site plan and request for clearing permission to expand the cemetery by 379 new plots, 319 of them standard and 60 for ashes. Ten existing plots would be abandoned, for a total of 1,551.
The application met with a generally favorable reception from planning board members, though there was some debate about the layout of the proposed new sections.
The burial plots in the 8.6-acre cemetery, designed by the noted architect Norman Jaffe and opened in 1991, loop like the fingers of two hands around a central pond. As proposed, the additional plots would be laid out in two new sections, one in the northwest corner and the other in the southwest.
“This is not a substantial expansion,” JoAnne Pahwul, assistant director of the Planning Department, told the board, explaining that the cemetery is “practically built out.” The addition would increase coverage to 78,894 square feet; 80,000 is the maximum allowed. “The ‘fingers’ are very lovely,” Ms. Pahwul said of the design. She did, however, recommend that the two new ones be placed together, in a single area to the southwest, rather than well apart as proposed, “so at least we have a small block of open space to combine with the rest of the open space around there.” The cemetery is bordered by a town nature preserve.
Dan Weaver of Walbridge Surveyors, representing the applicant, pointed out that clustering the two sections, one in front of the other as Ms. Pahwul suggested, would leave no easy access to the one in back. Also, he said, “A cluster would change the character of the cemetery. It’s very open, it flows with the natural contour of the land.”
Ed Krug, a member of the planning board, said he had been to see the cemetery, which he called “a beautiful, low-key, park-like spot.” There are no tombstones, only uniform 12-by-24-inch footstones set flush with the land. “There are no monuments because of our philosophy that we are all equal in death,” Ms. Wiener said.
Located off Old Stone Highway at the end of a long flag lot, the cemetery is well away from the road, and many people, Mr. Krug among them, have been unaware of its existence. “I had no idea this even existed,” he told his fellow board members. “The application came as a complete surprise to me.” Mr. Krug agreed with Ms. Pahwul, saying that “it would be great to concentrate the additional plots in one spot and leave the other acre in open space.”
Job Potter, the board’s chairman, said he was “generally supportive” of the plan as proposed. “I think it’s a unique application,” he said. “I want to go there and think about the layout.”
The board’s other members, Ian Calder-Piedmonte, Randall Parsons, Nancy Keeshan, and Kathy Cunningham, concurred. “Fine as proposed,” said Mr. Calder-Piedmonte, though also suggesting that an archaeological study be done before disturbing the site, which is within New York State’s list of archaeologically sensitive areas.
Ms. Wiener said the Jewish Center has “no problem with archaeology, we’ve done that in the past,” in 2016, when 182 plots were added to the original 1,000.
Mr. Parsons said he was “okay with the design,” but wondered if there might be a conservation easement over the rest of the vacant land, to provide a buffer for the neighbors. “So, no more burials,” he said. Ms. Cunningham agreed, saying she would support the application contingent on an easement.