Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Regulating small-town land use

Rural places are associated with a lack of regulation, including regarding land use.  That's one reason you're more likely to see scenes like those in the accompanying photos in rural places rather than urban ones.  But an Alabama town of just 1,770  is in the New York Times today for its regulation of a woman's burial.  When Patsy Davis died in 2009, her husband James buried her in the front yard of their home, just as she'd requested but against the direction of the City Council of Stevenson.  Campbell Robertson reports from Stevenson, Alabama.  Here's an excerpt:
But ever since Mr. Davis granted his dying wife’s wish by laying her to rest just off his front porch, he and the City of Stevenson have been at odds. From City Hall to the courts, the government of this little railroad town in southern Appalachia has tried to convince Mr. Davis that a person who lives in a town cannot just set up a cemetery anywhere he likes. On Oct. 11, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed a judge’s decision saying as much.
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Alabama, like most states, has no state law against burying someone on private property, and family graves are not all that rare in the country.
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While private burials are permitted in rural areas, cities and towns often have ordinances governing the burials, to which the state defers.
One thing I find interesting about this story is that the distinction between a small town and "the country" is so highly significant.  In so many other contexts--especially from an urban perspective--"rural" is synonymous with "small town," and most urbanites would see Stevenson as rural.

P.S.  This story was on the most emailed list in the New York Times for a day or so after it appeared.

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