The condition of a private cemetery has one Mobile city councilman questioning the authority of the mayor’s office when it comes to blighted properties.
Councilman Levon Manzie said he’s heard several complaints from residents near Oaklawn Cemetery on Holt Road near Toulminville over the neglect of plots, which has resulted in the overgrowth of grass and weeds at the burial site. Although the cemetery is private, at a recent council pre-conference meeting Manzie asked why more couldn’t be done to make it look nicer.
At the meeting Manzie said the last time he visited the cemetery he saw a coffin above the ground, out in the open.
“The shape it’s in and its condition affects nearby residents,” Manzie said of the cemetery. “You can’t see some of the graves because it’s so overgrown.”
The condition of the cemetery is especially bad for residents in the area, he said, because many are beginning to invest in revitalization of the neighborhood.
“I’m going to be looking for a path forward,” Manzie said. “I would hope there’s some level of attention we can give to the cemetery.”
Because the cemetery is private, it is difficult for the city to engage. Manzie said he’s heard that before, but doesn’t understand why the city can take action on other private property, like a home or even a pool, but can’t work on a cemetery.
“So, you know, that argument isn’t going to go so far with me,” he said. “We vote to impact private property every week. We go onto private property, tear down homes, put liens on it and require a public hearing …. ”
Not only is the cemetery itself private property, but each individual plot is owned by individual families, which is the main issue for the city, spokeswoman Laura Byrne said. This poses a problem because while the city’s weed abatement ordinance allows the government to place a lien on the property, it’s difficult to do that on an individual plot, Byrne said.
There are several ordinances within the city code that relate to cemeteries, but none specifically mention privately owned graveyards.
Manzie had a similar issue with the upkeep of Plateau Cemetery. A few weeks ago, students from the University of Mobile worked as part of Project Serve to perform needed maintenance there. Manzie said he doesn’t believe that should be a long-term goal for the city.
“As a city we shouldn’t have to wait for young college students to pay attention to historic cemeteries,” he said. “We’re seeing homes demolished as blight, yet we have cemeteries with animals and vermin running in and out that we don’t do anything about.”