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Affordable Housing, Cemetery vie for Space in Chapel Hill

A planned community of affordable apartments in eastern North Carolina has some residents worried that there won't be enough room for a local cemetery.

The Chapel Hill Town Council sold off several acres adjacent to a local cemetery in 2013 to a non-profit in order to construct low-cost apartment housing for working families and seniors. Although construction is not slated to begin until next year, some locals are already concerned that this means there won't be room for the Chapel Hill Cemetery to expand in the future. One long-time resident, Eunice Brock claims that the land was promised to the cemetery by the Town Council twenty years ago.

“Most of the people in the town, especially if they’ve had family buried out there, expect it to just continue along on the side,” she told The Daily Tar Heel, the University of North Carolina's student newspaper.

While it is true that there are restrictions on what municipalities may due with land that has been officially designated for cemetery purposes, there are no such restrictions on land allegedly promised to cemeteries - and certainly not for the expectations of locals. 

There are currently only 53 plots left in Chapel Hill Cemetery, which cemetery administration only expects to last for about a year. After that, residents wishing to be buried will have to look elsewhere. Ms. Brock, with an apparently lack of irony, worries that this could be more expensive. Of course, there are always alternatives to burial. Chapel Hill is planning on building a columbarium adjacent to the cemetery.

As we have noted before, an ever-increasing population and a finite amount of land means that the living and the dead will continue to battle over real estate. While it may be true, as the French philosopher Auguste Comte remarked, that the dead govern the living, we need not allow them to regulate our land.

Steven Verez

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