Once a small family burial plot on a sprawling private farm, the historic William Jewell Cemetery is about to be boxed in by development.
The proposal, submitted by developer Wayne Hawks, would allow for the construction of a 52-unit apartment complex bordering the south and west sides of the cemetery. It is up for a final vote by the Columbia City Council on June 5. Hawks also plans to construct an office building between the cemetery and a Waffle House to the north.
The development would include one building with six apartments, three buildings with eight apartments, one building with 10 apartments and one building with 12 apartments for a total of 52 apartments. The development would cover 7.2 acres.
Hawks has been praised by those who oversee the cemetery for being sensitive to his plan’s impact on the area.
William Jewell is one of three historic cemeteries owned by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and is maintained by staff from Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. Former Gov. Charles Hardin is buried at the cemetery — state law requires cemeteries that hold the remains of former governors be maintained by the state if no other public or private entity does so.
Jim Gast, superintendent of Rock Bridge Park, said he worked with Hawks to make the apartments as unintrusive as possible. Gast said Hawks agreed to limit the number of lights in the complex parking lot and prohibit tenants from having loud parties.
“He has a right to do what he wants with the land,” Gast said. “He respects the cemetery and is trying to keep it as low-profile as possible.”
After repeated phone calls, neither Hawks nor Dan Brusch, the engineer helping him develop the site, could be reached for comment.
Hawks and Gast worked with the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission to have screening requirements for the apartments waived. Gast said he didn’t want a wall or a screen of shrubbery or other vegetation between the cemetery and the development because a wall from 1852 surrounds the cemetery.
“It’s a classic stone wall and really beautiful, so we requested no screening to protect the integrity of the wall,” Gast said. “We were worried if there was an additional wall, it would be hard to repair the stone wall, and vegetation could cause shifts in the wall.”
Gast said he plans to talk with Hawks again about possible screening on the north side of the cemetery when he presents a proposal for the office building.
City Planning and Development Director Tim Teddy said that under normal circumstances some sort of screening would minimize the intrusiveness of commercial use.
“In this case, the main interest for the cemetery is on visitors, and a solid barrier would diminish the historic rock wall,” Teddy said.
Despite the compromises, Gast said the apartment complex will be visible from the road and the cemetery.
However, Hawks could have put more buildings on the land than he’s proposing.
“He wants to make money, but he is still cognizant of the cemetery as a historic site,” Gast said. “He is taking the best approach possible.”
Mary Kaye Doyle, a member of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, said the committee has not discussed the development, but she plans to mention it at the group’s June 6 meeting.
Teddy said the city’s zoning ordinances have no setback requirements for developments near cemeteries or historic sites.
Teddy said small family cemeteries are often surrounded by development. When there are special concerns about negative impact on a cemetery, special conditions can be added when requests for rezoning or approval of development plans are submitted.
“Cemeteries are entitled to special protection from adverse impacts of storm run-off, and the need for quiet is considered because, usually, people visit them during a solemn occasion,” he said. “In this case, state officials indicated they were comfortable with the development.”