The East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday unanimously approved the variances needed to allow Temple Adas Israel of Sag Harbor to expand its cemetery on Route 114, just south of the East Hampton Town-Sag Harbor Village border, onto land it bought in 2011. Entrance to the new part of the cemetery is via a road under town trustee control, and the panel had already agreed to its use.
The legal problem the temple faced was that the land is, by just 150 feet, within a water recharge district. The temple wanted to eventually clear the entire roughly one-acre parcel and to be allowed to follow Jewish tradition, which calls for burials in plain pine coffins. The town code, however, requires coffins in water recharge districts to be sealed and watertight.
The intent of Jewish law, according to Howard Chwatsky, treasurer and head of Temple Adas Israel’s cemetery committee, who spoke during a public hearing on July 1, is to return the body to the earth, allowing it to decompose.
In voting unanimously, board members were clearly swayed by a memo received several weeks ago from Eric Schantz, a planner with the town’s Planning Department. Cate Rogers, a Z.B.A. member, focused on Mr. Schantz’s point that the release of nitrogen into the groundwater under Jewish custom would be less than would occur if a septic system were on the land. Mr. Schantz also reported that fertilizers, which leach nitrogens, are not used on the cemetery’s grounds.
Don Cirillo, a member of the board, asked its attorney, Elizabeth Baldwin, if it would be possible to ensure, through a covenant, that the cemetery never be sold to another group, which might not follow the same burial practices. She said such a covenant would not be legal but she also told the board that it could add a stipulation to its decision that any burial that uses embalming fluids would have to be in a sealed watertight coffin. The board also agreed that approval should be conditioned on not using fertilizers or having paved paths.
The next step for the temple is to return to the planning board, where a site plan was on hold pending action from the zoning board. The planning board has already indicated its support for the temple’s plans.