Special exception for Islamic cemetery approved—with conditions
● By Steven Hoffman
At a public hearing on Aug. 16, the Upper Oxford Township Zoning Hearing Board voted 3-0 in favor of granting a special exception requested by the Islamic Society of Delaware to establish a cemetery on a 15-acre property at the northeast intersection of Newark Road (Route 896) and Penn’s Grove Road. However, the approval comes with a series of more than ten conditions pertaining to planning and environmental requirements that must be met as the plans move forward.
The Islamic Society of Delaware will need to go through the land-development process for the project to get final approval. Plans will be reviewed by Upper Oxford Township’s planning commission and ultimately approved by the board of supervisors.
Qamar Ahmad, a civil engineer and the spokesperson for the Islamic Society of Delaware, said moments after the decision was announced that it will take some time to analyze the conditions placed on the project to determine how to proceed. The township will be providing the Islamic Society of Delaware with its decision in writing.
Winifred Sebastian, the solicitor for the zoning hearing board, read the conditions aloud for the 70 or so residents who were in attendance at the meeting, which was held at Oxford Area High School. The zoning hearing board, which includes Chris Coburn, J. Stephen Hill, and David Nibouar, according to the township's website, voted 3-0 in favor of granting the special exception with the conditions.
“It’s a good decision,” Ahmad said. “We thank the board for making a positive decision.”
When asked about the conditions that were included with the special exception, Ahmad said that it would take time to evaluate the impact that they might have on the project.
“Generally, they seemed okay,” Ahmad said, adding that there is no timetable for moving forward on the project until the Islamic Society of Delaware receives the written report about the decision and can assess whether the project is still viable.
The Islamic Society of Delaware has plans to purchase the 15-acre property from the Community of Love Lutheran Church, which is based in Oxford, contingent on the approval of the project. The property has been on the market for several years. It is currently being utilized as a cornfield.
One of the conditions placed on the applicant is that the property can have only one use—that’s a regulation on the books in Upper Oxford Township. According to the Islamic Society of Delaware’s plans, the cemetery would only utilize a small portion of the 15-acre property, and no plans were specified for the rest of the property. According to township regulations, it would not be permissible, for example, to lease the rest of the land to a farmer for agricultural purposes.
The applicant must comply with all stormwater regulations and have a wetlands study and a soil study completed. The wells must also be monitored ensure water quality. A landscape plan for the full property must be submitted to the township. A traffic study must also be undertaken as part of the land-development process.
The property where the cemetery would be located is zoned R-2, which allows for cemeteries, according to the township’s regulations, making the approval of the special exception almost a certainty.
“The burden on the applicant is not a heavy burden,” Sebastian said.
There was no public comment during this portion of the hearing, which stretched out over two nights in the last month. People gathered in small groups after the hearing ended, and many seemed upset that some of the issues that were raised at the previous night of the hearing were not adequately addressed.
Several people who live close to where the cemetery would be established expressed concerns that Muslims prefer to bury their dead in graves without a casket, and the potential impact that that could have on water quality in the area. Others said that they were worried about the impact that a cemetery could have on property values for homes in the immediate vicinity.
Some residents in attendance lamented the possible loss of agricultural lands in the farming community. Several people wondered aloud why a Delaware organization was locating a cemetery in Pennsylvania.
SLUG: Upper Oxford Zoning Hearing Board-cemetery hearing