NEBRASKA CITY – Following impassioned pleas for both the serenity of Wyuka Cemetery and the need for a youth soccer field, the Nebraska City Cemetery Board voted unanimously this week against a proposal to use cemetery expansion land for playing fields.
Parks Commissioner Patrick Wehling proposes some dirt work and installation of a soccer field on land west of the cemetery that may not be needed for graves for another 80 years. The conceptual drawing also shows two baseball practice fields in an area that is identified for earlier expansion.
Path: “In our opinion it makes sense to utilize the public land for recreational use.”
Resident Jack Brust said it doesn’t make sense to spend $800,000 for temporary fields now, only to pursue a multi-million-dollar sports complex later.
Brust said proposed dirt work to level the soccer field would change the landscape.
Brust: “You’d never be able … it would be, you know, if you wanted to maintain some kind of an atmosphere the existing cemetery has, you’d be lost. It would be like being buried on a runway.”
City Administrator Gayson Path said the playing fields project would be primarily accomplished without city funds. He said the idea for project could go away, if the soccer and ballfield associations can not raise the money.
Wehling said the city will still pursue a full-scale sports complex, even if the fields are built west of the cemetery.
Richard Rhinehart of Nebraska City said no price can be put on a solemn moment at the graveside of a loved one.
Rhinehart: “It’s pretty important to me. To have somebody cheering in the background, when you’re trying to say good bye … Money can’t buy that time and you will all face that time.”
Pastor Neil Schmidt he understands why playing fields are not consider a compatible use with a cemetery.
Schmidt: “You have, as you need to in the practice, “Hey, go over there! Hey, do this,” you know that type of thing. It’s not meant to be disrespectful, but it takes away from that moment.”
Wehling said cemeteries in many communities are surrounded by urban uses and said he believes the green space associated with playing fields will not detract from the cemetery atmosphere.
Wehling: “In my opinion, no. Again, it’s children’s laughter, children playing. It’s not a negative noise. It’s not a negative sound, like our industrial park right across the street to the south.”
Resident Dana Stovall highlighted to value of youth activities.
Stovall: “I also like to go there when it’s private and quiet, however, I’ve also been a coach for youth and there is such a huge need.”
Amy Allgood, Doug Friedli and Jim Thurman said adequate soccer and baseball fields are an important part of the city’s economic development puzzle.
Board member Lynn Pursel moved to recommend to the city council not allowing the proposal to go forward.
Pursel: “I’m not unsympathetic to the needs for the soccer and the ballfield, but I think looking at it in the best interest of the cemetery, I don’t think this is.”
A public hearing is scheduled at the March 18 city council meeting toward the end of the 6 p.m. meeting.