New Ridgefield cemetery rules raise concerns

Changing the rules for Ridgefield’s cemeteries, the selectmen weren’t really expecting to hear from residents.

But after the Board of Selectmen adopted four pages of cemetery regulations earlier this summer, Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark reported getting some feedback from a Ridgefielder worried that the rules would limit families’ ability to honor loved ones buried in the cemeteries under town jurisdiction.

“They were very concerned,” Kozlark told the selectmen’s July 17 meeting. “...They felt their loved one, or their remembrance they wanted to bring to the plot, would be hindered.”

Kozlark compared the enforcement of the new cemetery regulations, adopted on the recommendation of the Graveyard Restoration Committee, to the long-established practices in St. Mary’s Cemetery — where decorations that don’t comply with the rules are removed.

“I know when St. Mary’s did a cleaning, people were upset,” Kozlark said.

Sexton’s attention

First Selectman Rudy Marconi suggested it was unlikely the town’s cemeteries would get the level of attention seen at St. Mary’s cemetery.

“St. Mary’s has a sexton who spends a lot of time there, whereas here the only thing the sexton does is burials and mow the lawn,” Marconi said.

Enforcement was a worry for the citizen who’d contacted Kozlark.

“The concern was there was going to be too much of cemetery police,” she said. “...This was clearly in response to the rules just enacted. They read about it in the paper and were concerned and upset — and rightly so, I think.”

Marconi later told The Press that while enforcement practices might differ between the town and church cemeteries, the rules were much the same.

“The ‘rules and regulations’ proposed by the Cemetery Restoration Committee and passed as requested by the BOS, are similar if not in fact a repeat of those established for St. Mary's,” Marconi said.

The rules

The rules cover a range of areas, including but not limited to the way mourning family and friends may decorate graves.

Headstones, for instance, are subject to size regulations. Headstone heights are limited to 38 inches and there is a range of approved headstone base sizes — from three feet for a single grave, up to six feet for a headstone marking six graves.

If areas of cemeteries are designated for the burial of cremated remains, there only flat grave markers are allowed — flush, approximately 18 inches deep, and three feet long for one grave, and four feet long for two graves.

The rules address grave decoration practices quite extensively.

“The cemetery reserves the right to remove all flowers, wreaths or other decorations from plots as soon as they become unsightly,” the regulations say.

“The grounds will be cleared of decorations twice a year. Spring clean-up begins March 15 and fall clean-up begins October 15…

“We request that families refrain from placing jars, bottles, styro-foam objects, crockery, statuary, cans or vigil lights on any grave.

“Devotional lights of any type are prohibited in the cemetery.

“Any other type of decoration we find objectionable or dangerous to our employees will be removed immediately.

“Grave blankets or sprays will not be permitted and will be removed.

“Artificial plants or flowers are strongly discouraged during the growing season…”

There are more specific rules for the growing season, defined as April 1 to November 1, and the non-growing season, which runs from November 1 to April 1.

“The town of Ridgefield has the right to modify these rules and regulations at any time at its discretion,” says the document approved by the selectmen at their June 19 meeting.

Emotional issue

Kozlark told The Press she wanted to draw attention to the issues that had been raised.

“My intent on mentioning it at our meeting was I highlight the sensitivity felt by loved ones pertaining to the memorials and decorations,” she said. “I feel certain the cemetery committee is well aware of this and was judicious in proposing regulations which mirrored those of other cemeteries in town.”

At the meeting, Kozlark told fellow selectmen the concerns expressed to her were understandable.

“It’s a very emotional situation,” she said, “and upsetting to people.”