The Summit Land Conservancy is working to acquire a 15-acre parcel of land near Oakley that it hopes would be both natural open space and the site for a “green cemetery” where decedents would be buried naturally in the earth.
An Eastern Summit County open-space committee just recommended partial funding for the project, which partners the Land Conservancy with a Salt Lake funeral parlor, but there is more funding needed and another hearing ahead for the effort.
The Executive Director of the Summit Land Conservancy, Cheryl Fox, said the land is located just outside Oakley City limits along Boulderville Road.
They have the land under contract, but she emphasized they’re still doing their due diligence on the parcel.
The land, owned by film and TV actress Katherine Heigl, has been posted for sale for several months. Fox said the conservancy didn’t know the celebrity connection when they sought the land. They’ve been working with the realtor on the parcel.
Fox said a mutual friend put them in touch with Starks Funeral Parlor in Millcreek. She said it’s unusual for them to partner with a for-profit enterprise that also needs open space.
“The funeral parlor, obviously, has experience with people who are in the process of grieving and trying to make arrangements, and realize that a lot of times, people are really looking for a more natural, more traditional, if you will, and more wholesome end-of-life experience, as a way to say goodbye to their loved one, and at the same time, honoring their life and honoring the things that were important to them,” Fox said. “In many cases, an environmental ethic was a part of their life.”
The parcel is zoned AG-10, currently has two lots of record and is in Oakley’s annexation zone.
Fox said the plan is for Starks to purchase the land, valued at $1.6 million. She said the funeral parlor is pursuing a business loan.
Then the Summit Land Conservancy will pay Starks for a conservation easement on the land, set at $500,000, which would prohibit buildings but allow the owner to continue other uses of the open space.
Last week, the East Side Agricultural and Open Space Preservation Committee recommended funding of $160,000. ESAP has received funds for two decades from Promontory, which agreed in its 2001 approval to pay a fee for every development lot sold on their land.
Final approval for the funding must come from Summit County Manager Tom Fisher.
Fox said there isn’t a green cemetery anywhere in Utah, but she noted that the Snyderville Basin doesn’t have a cemetery and the project can fill a need.
“The ceremonies and burials that we do with embalming chemicals are very toxic,” she said. “A lot of times, it’s concrete involved, again toxic. And there’s a huge carbon imprint, as well as with cremation, there’s a big carbon imprint. So if people are looking for something that is more environmentally normal and natural, this type—we call it pioneer burial. It’s exactly what our ancestors did for millennia. It’s wholesome. It’s natural. It’s what the earth and our bodies were meant to do.
Fox said the cemetery will probably have one building for ceremonies, and a wall listing those who are buried there. Family members and friends will be given a GPS spot to pinpoint where a loved one is located. In the natural setting, she said, visitors can sit on boulders or tree stumps for reflection.
However, at last week’s County Board of Health meeting, Board Member Chris Ure, a South Summit resident, was concerned about the cemetery’s proximity to the Weber River.
“My biggest concern is, that’s all cobblerock,” Ure said. “I’ve buried enough cows, I know what a ‘green cemetery’ looks like. And I’m worried about what’s going to happen to the river, polluting the river and that, if you have a green cemetery up there.”
In response, Fox said the parcel is upland from the river. She said she’s talked to Ure and noted, as he did, that he’s buried cattle naturally.
“We know that that doesn’t harm our water quality, that doesn’t harm our air quality,” Fox said. “There’s not wild wolves coming out and digging these things up. We know that this is a process that can happen and can work and can also be safe. And actually, experts are telling us, people who know--like Doug Evans, who used to run Mountain Regional Water, and Councilman Doug Clyde who is quite an expert on hydrology and wetlands—understand that it’s far more damaging to put a house with paved driveways and hard surfaces near the river in the flood plain, because that causes far more water quality and surface-water quality damage.”
Fox said the Summit Land Conservancy’s deadline to close on the land is May 1. And they have to appear soon before the East County Planning Commission to apply for a conditional use permit.
She invited anyone with comments to email her at Cheryl@wesaveland.org.