The town of Norwell is fast running out of burial space, and residents will be asked in the spring to approve spending up to $2.6 million for a new public cemetery on town-owned land.
Only about a dozen plots remain at the 19-acre Washington Street Cemetery, used by the town of nearly 11,000 since 1893.
The new graveyard, to be located on 7 acres off Stetson Shrine Lane, will include thousands of burial plots, landscaped gardens, and a place to scatter ashes. It should meet the town’s needs for about 24 years, according to local officials.
“People want to be buried in their hometown. If we want to accommodate them, we have to get busy and build a new cemetery,” said Gertrude Daneau, chairwoman of the Cemetery Committee.
A shortage of space in public cemeteries south of Boston has been an ongoing issue for years; for example, the city of Quincy, which has about a half-dozen public cemeteries, has often been forced to limit sales of plots to immediate need. Space issues have also forced cemeteries in Braintree, Halifax, Pembroke, Plymouth, and Randolph to either expand or seek alternate solutions, such as crematories, in recent years.
In Norwell, residents will be asked at the May 6 Town Meeting to support the Cemetery Committee’s proposal to develop the new graveyard, or face a real space crisis, said Daneau.
She said residents have asked for a cemetery in the garden style of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, which is known for the beauty of its landscaped grounds. “It is going to be an interesting type of cemetery,” she said, including gardens and a columbarium for urns.
She said plans for the new cemetery were postponed nearly five years ago due to the presence of the Eastern box turtle, an endangered species, on part of the site. Town officials eventually had to set aside land elsewhere to establish a new habitat for the turtle.
“I used to get quite frustrated, especially dealing with the turtles because that took so long, but now I realize there is no way these things can be hurried,” said Daneau.
Selectmen described the current site plan, developed by Merrill Associates of Hanover, as beautiful but, at least according to Selectwoman Ellen Allen, the cost caused some “sticker shock.”
“We will discuss it further this week. We’ll see where it goes,” said Allen, referring to a meeting that was scheduled for Feb. 20. She said the plan is necessary but the price tag might be lowered before the proposal is brought to voters. She said officials have not discussed details yet but will seek ways to limit spending by taking a closer look at the cost of aesthetic factors.
“We definitely need a new cemetery, because we are running out of plots,” she said.
According to Allen, it has taken years to set aside the proper conservation land to compensate for the loss of a portion of the Eastern box turtle’s habitat. Town voters decided in 2011 to use more than 20 acres about 2 miles away on town-owned Wildcat Lane to establish the new habitat.
Meanwhile, it has been at least two years since burial spots at the Washington Street Cemetery became scarce, said Daneau; restrictions have been placed on plot distribution, which in essence has limited all sales to immediate burial needs.
“People of all ages call, but especially senior citizens because they want their future all taken care of. It really bothers me that I can’t help them. There is somebody every month that I’m turning down,” she said.
Daneau said she hopes voters will decide to fund the new cemetery in May.
“If they don’t accept it, I don’t know what we’ll do. People will have to go somewhere else to be buried, and it will cost them three times as much as what we would have charged,” she said. The town charges $500 for a burial plot, along with a $10 registration fee, which allows for one burial, four cremations, or one burial and one cremation.
She said she cannot dwell on the number of people the cemetery has been unable to accommodate because it is too upsetting.
“I try to put it out of mind,” she said. “I spend enough hours worrying about the cemetery. It affects me deeply.”