NEW PALESTINE — Plans to erect a building near a historic cemetery in New Palestine have been approved despite continued concerns from locals.
Representatives of the landowner, retired dentist Brian Shoppel, told the New Palestine Plan Commission on Wednesday that preliminary building plans have been altered and should alleviate concerns that new construction will infringe on the burial site. Local preservationists, however, aren’t so sure the changes made are good enough to protect the cemetery.
Despite altering the plans to create at least a 25-foot buffer between the cemetery and any construction, local historians contend the fence surrounding the site doesn’t necessarily indicate an exact boundary, and construction in the area could unearth bodies that were buried in the mid-1800s.
Delaney Cemetery, which is owned by the county and cared for by Sugar Creek Township officials, sits on the north side of U.S. 52 about a mile west of County Road 500W. The land is directly west of a building that housed Shoppel’s former dental office.
Shoppel has plans to construct another building next to the one at 5774 U.S. 52 West. That would bring the structure uncomfortably close to the cemetery regardless of the change in plans, members of the Hancock County Pioneer Cemetery Board said.
Cemetery board members voiced their concerns to the plan commission after the site was surveyed by H. Gibson Land Surveying LLC.
Harold Gibson, the surveyor, said the cemetery boundaries have now been extended in legal documents to a quarter acre; originally, Gibson listed the site at about one-fourth that size. After inspecting the cemetery a second time with Sugar Creek Township Trustee Bob Boyer, Gibson said new plans extend the cemetery boundaries 5 feet to the east, 15 feet to the north and 30 feet to the west.
Gibson said the modified plans also move the proposed parking lot farther east.
“We’ve done a lot to try and recognize and respect the cemetery rights of those that are buried there,” he said.
Preservationists contend there are more than likely unmarked graves outside the formal cemetery boundaries.
At a plan commission meeting last month, James Arthur of New Palestine presented a copy of the original 1860 deed. It showed the cemetery was more than three times the size originally presented to the plan commission.
While the new plans reflect the cemetery’s correct size, Arthur said, he remains concerned about protecting the site.
Arthur said the Department of Natural Resources recommends the cemetery be measured from the center, and he questioned whether the survey was done correctly.
“Were the revised plans surveyed on the grounds or drawn in the office?” Arthur said. “I’m concerned about the size of the cemetery and how it was measured from the center out, an equal distance on each side.”
Town attorney Gregg Morelock said the DNR recommendation is simply that, a suggestion that isn’t binding.
Indiana law prohibits disturbance of the land within 100 feet of a cemetery without DNR approval.
Gibson said developers will take care while digging in the area.
“We know that there are rules in excavation and construction,” Gibson said. “Remains and body parts, those can exist anytime we dig.”
Gibson said he and his client have done all they can to make sure no graves are infringed upon.
Gibson said he was not sure when construction would start on the property, but the next step is to send the plans to the DNR for approval.