Monday, November 28, 2022

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Council defends city staff’s caution over proposed cemetery

Burlington’s city council may not have rendered a final decision on the Muslim burial ground that came up for a public hearing on Tuesday. But the council, which plans to vote on the cemetery on June 1, didn’t exactly sit silent after it allowed the public to have its say about this proposal.


See other coverage in this week’s edition: “Hearing finally held on rezoning for Muslim cemetery; support voiced by city clergy; vote set for June 1: https://alamancenews.com/hearing-finally-held-on-rezoning-for-muslim-cemetery-support-voiced-by-city-clergy-vote-set-for-june-1/


During Tuesday’s meeting, each member of the council spoke up in defense of city staff members who were blasted by some of the cemetery’s supporters for their rigorous review of the project as well as their opposition to its development in a location that the city deems ripe for industrial use.

Among those who took staff to task at Tuesday’s hearing was Lawson Brown, a local attorney for the Burlington Makkah Masjid, which hopes to establish the Muslim burial ground on 1.3 acres along Hanford Road. Brown was particularly critical of the city’s staff-level technical review committee, which spent roughly six months vetting the proposed cemetery before allowing the Masjid to proceed with its application.

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“We don’t believe that the staff’s objections are fueled by identity prejudice,” Brown added during the hearing. “Unfortunately, it’s well documented in this country that Muslim communities are facing challenges establishing cemeteries through local governments because of land use regulations.”

The council heard an even more pointed accusation from Ron Shive, the senior pastor at Burlington’s First Presbyterian Church, who asked the council to imagine what would’ve occurred had someone from his own congregation gone through the same rigmarole over a request for a cemetery.

“I’ll tell you what would’ve happened,” the minister added. “Bob Lewis [a local commercial real estate broker] would have been chewing some a—.”

In the end, these attacks on the city staff’s actions raised the hackles of councilman Jim Butler, who shared his objections toward the end of the council’s four-hour meeting on Tuesday. Butler commended the city’s planning staff for “taking the heat for us” through

“There’s no need to blame city staff. The staff is simply doing their job…For those who would assume that people by a different name might be treated differently, I find that an uneducated comment.” – Burlington city councilman Jim Butler

its persistent defense of a municipal land use plan whose recommendation for industrial development has been the basis of the staff’s opposition to the Masjid’s request.

“There’s no need to blame city staff,” the councilman added. “The staff is simply doing their job…For those who would assume that people by a different name might be treated differently, I find that an uneducated comment.”

Butler’s remarks drew a few words of concurrence from Burlington’s mayor pro tem Kathy Hykes. Councilman Harold Owen also bristled at the thought that “the staff’s integrity” was “being questioned” by “some very prominent people,” and councilman Bob Ward argued that city staff did “precisely what they were charged with doing” in their evaluation of the proposed cemetery. Meanwhile, Burlington’s mayor Ian Baltutis noted just how high the stakes are for the city whenever someone proposes a new cemetery.

“There is basically no more permanent use than a cemetery,” he said. “That is why we have it as an only-council approved item.”

“There is basically no more permanent use than a cemetery. That is why we have it as an only-council approved item.” – Burlington mayor Ian baltutis

It was Butler, however, who uttered what seemed like the definitive statement on the staff’s role in this controversy.

“If Bob Lewis is going to do any a– chewing,” he told the rest of the council, “I just as soon it be mine and not city staff’s.”

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