By Kylie Marsh
Plans for Westwood Cemetery’s expansion and the prospect of banning gas-powered landscaping equipment dominated discussion at the Carrboro Town Council meeting Tuesday night.
Westwood Cemetery Expansion
The Carrboro Greenways Commission is due for appointments. However, Mayor Pro Tem Susan Romaine raised concern that the commission, including the two new appointees, is entirely white. “It’s really important that the Greenways Commission does reflect the demographics of the community,” Romaine said. She suggested expanding the applicant pool to get more diverse applicants.
The council unanimously approved both appointments.
Westwood was approved for expansion at a Town Council work session in February. Currently, the cemetery only has 55 plots left for traditional casketed burials.
Peter Fernandez is president of Carter van Dyke Associates, the landscape architecture firm hired to design the layout of the Westwood Cemetery Master Plan. Fernandez and Capital Projects Manager for Carrboro Town Works Ben Schmadeke addressed the Town Council Tuesday night.
The proposed plan involved areas for rain gardens, fences to delineate open space for public use from the cemetery, and a looping road that would connect to a paved area accessible to those with mobility aids. The plan also proposed spaces for columbaria and ossuaries.
Fernandez said market trends indicate consumers are looking for “greener alternatives” for burial, such as cremation or natural burial.
The total project would cost $630,000, including funding from private donations or Carrboro’s FY25 Capital Improvement funds.
Carrboro High School student August Larson spoke on behalf of a group opposed to cemetery expansion, saying they’ve collected 470 signatures from community members requesting no expansion of the cemetery. Bob Proctor asked the Council to reduce the amount of green burial options, keeping traditional burials in mind.
Richard Ellington said he knows or is related to about three-quarters of those interred at Westwood and supports green burial options.
Council member Sammy Slade wondered which of the proposed features were requested by community members.
Fernandez responded that the Council can decide whether to build green burial features in the future.
The Master Plan establishes two phases of development. The first phase entails a comprehensive geological survey of the site to understand what types of remains can be stored on the property and at what depth. It also includes construction of the looping road.
“One of the goals of this meeting and coming out of the work session was to establish some certainty about the future of the site,” Mayor Damon Seils said.
Council member Randee Haven-O’Donnell stressed that the cemetery would need to serve Orange County, not just Carrboro. “We want to be at peace with this,” she said. “We want to have a community sense of compromise.”
Other Council members, like Barbara Foushee and Eliazar Posada, stressed that the entire property is a cemetery; however, they mentioned that folks still jog through and walk their dogs.
Council member Danny Nowell proposed that the Master Plan be approved with amendments.
“The open green space was in recognition of the bedrock,” he explained. He also stated that the looping road was studied by traffic safety experts and found to be unsafe.
Council member Sammy Slade spoke in opposition to the Master Plan. “We are struggling to find land to support an actual park,” he said. Council member Haven-O’Donnell agreed.
The motion to adopt the master plan but move the columbarium construction to a later phase of development passed 5-2.
Ordinance to ban gas-powered landscaping equipment
Carrboro Economic Development Director Jon Hartman-Brown and Assistant to the Town Manager Zach Kier were tasked with researching the feasibility of passing a local ordinance to ban gas-powered landscaping equipment , such as leaf blowers, lawn mowers and the like, to avoid gas and noise pollution.
Hartman-Brown and Kier researched the possibility of the ordinance with the Town Attorney, the police department, the economic development department, planning zoning and inspection and public works.
They found that only one place in North Carolina has an existing sound ordinance: Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill police said it’s always complied with voluntarily when they are called to enforce the ordinance. One potential hangup was the cost of purchasing and maintaining a decibel meter to measure loudness.
Local businesses said they would be seriously hindered, either by the costs of finding quieter equipment, or by companies just refusing to work in Carrboro at all. The presentation did not include community members’ input.
Council member Slade stressed the importance of protecting workers from hearing damage as a result of using loud equipment.
“What is mentioned here is the cost to businesses as a negative, and yet there are also all these other positives we should be hearing about,” he said, listing environmental justice, economic justice and health impacts as being left out. “We’re talking about health and safety.”
Mayor Pro Tem Romaine suggested amending the existing Chapel Hill ordinance to fit Carrboro’s conditions better: adjusting quiet hours and days, including holidays, disallowing use of gas-powered equipment on air-quality action days and in commercial districts directly adjacent to residential districts, restricting where debris is discarded and ensuring the equipment is in proper working order.
Romaine also suggested using Orange County Community Climate Action Grants to incentivize adapting to electric-powered landscaping equipment, as well as Carrboro’s Green neighborhood grants, and prioritizing BIPOC communities.
Mayor Seils agreed with Romaine’s suggestions.
“We know that electrification is coming, so what can we do to accelerate it?” He asked.
Council member Slade motioned to adopt Mayor Pro Tem Romaine’s amendments to a new decibel ordinance, effective October 2025. The motion passed unanimously.
A former TLR correspondent from Durham, Kylie Marsh returns to writing for the paper, albeit from new digs in Charlotte. Her work has also appeared in QCity Metro. As a graduate of NYU, she writes about local issues of class, race and inequality. When not freelancing, Kylie is organizing for the rights of workers, women and the homeless in Charlotte.