FARMINGTON -- City officials have approved a plan to expand the city cemetery at the expense of a city park.
The city council voted unanimously Jan. 17 to expand the cemetery into Mountain View Park, on the cemetery's east side.
The move could add as many as 720 plots to the burial ground while not closing the park or adjacent playground and tennis courts.
City officials have speculated the expansion could meet the city's burial needs for 15 to 20 years, if not longer.
In approving the expansion, city officials also answered another key issue of whether the city should remain in the cemetery business.
Mayor Scott Harbertson said it is clear to him that residents want the city to stay in the cemetery business and provide a final resting place for many of the city's residents.
The cemetery issue has been sensitive for the past few years, as officials have grappled with declining available burial space and few options for a new cemetery.
They adopted new rules to limit the use of burial space for nonresidents and have taken additional measures to clear up old burial rights to plots that have not been used.
Harbertson said the city initiated contact on two pieces of property to fill that need, only to find the owners unwilling to part with the land.
As part of the expansion, the fence that separates the park from the cemetery will be moved 100 feet to the east.
The council also discussed other options in addressing future needs.
One key element in moving ahead with expansion is finding a historical reference to the burial ground when it was purchased.
Minutes from a city council meeting of May 19, 1965, indicate the land being used for the park was purchased for future expansion of the city cemetery. At that time, the city purchased 3.3 acres at $3,500 per acre from Paul Spencer.
Neighbors have not been keen about losing the park to the cemetery expansion.
City Manager Dave Millheim, who lives in a neighborhood just east of the cemetery, initiated several meetings with neighbors to try to soften the blow of the potential expansion.
Before the vote, former Councilman Sid Young met, on behalf of neighbors, with council members in a work session on the issue. He urged the council to consider all options in expanding the cemetery while preserving the park.
Council members also reviewed neighbors' emails regarding the proposal.
One of the ideas heavily discussed was removing a parking lot to the west of the existing tennis courts and potentially making available up to 130 burial spaces.