By Ryan Murphy
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Lawmakers responded to overwhelming protest by residents of James City County today by gutting large portions of a bill that would have exempted buildings on cemetery grounds from building codes.
“When I introduced the bill, I had no idea there was a problem or issues in James City County,” said the legislation’s sponsor, Delegate Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell. “I am, of course, now keenly aware of that fact.”
In addition to the deluge of phone calls, letters and emails Ingram has received, more than 20 members of homeowners associations, community groups and local governments appeared at the subcommittee hearing on House Bill 316.
Many of those in attendance had been involved with a battle with St. Bede Catholic Church over the construction of a proposed 9,000-crypt mausoleum, which would have been located less than 20 yards from the nearest house. They voiced concerns that Ingram’s bill would give the church a chance to build what it wanted without oversight.
“What we wanted was, we wanted to maintain … our ability to control land use in the county under our ordinances,” said Jim Icenhour, a member of the James City County Board of Supervisors. “The original language would have taken a lot of the county’s authority to regulate any of that away.”
Ingram proposed an amendment to HB 316 that he said stripped much of the original language from the bill. The amendment was developed with James City County Attorney Leo Rogers, James City County Administrator Robert Middaugh and Delegates Mike Watson, R-Williamsburg and Brenda Pogge, R-Yorktown.
The amendment clarifies what is included in a cemetery, rescinds the exemption of cemetery buildings from building codes and specifies that mausoleums, chapels and other church and cemetery buildings must be included in a master plan.
A subcommittee of the House Towns, Cities and Counties Committee unanimously approved the amended bill. The full committee now will consider the revised version of HB 316.
“We are glad that they have made these substitutions,” said James City County resident Ann Trapani. She lives in The Meadows, one of the neighborhoods adjacent to the St. Bede grounds on which the mausoleum was set to be built.
“I really am proud of James City County, our board of supervisors and Delegate Watson.”
HB 316 had been introduced on behalf of Service Corporation International, the country’s largest funeral services provider. “It was an effort to try to get parity across the state,” Scott Jones of SCI said at the subcommittee hearing.
Nearly all of the stakeholders in the issue said they were satisfied with the changes in the bill’s language. But some Williamsburg residents still harbor concerns about the measure.
“I still object to the fact that you have cemetery, mausoleum and columbarium all classified as the same thing,” said Jerre Johnson of the Baron Woods neighborhood. “They have different footprints, different impacts and different functions.”
Sen. Frank Ruff Jr., R-Clarksville, is sponsoring a Senate companion to Ingram’s legislation – Senate Bill 430. Ruff has agreed to change his bill to reflect the amended version of HB 316, Ingram said.
This article was published by such CNS subscribers at The Virginia Gazette.