Does Clearwater town council really need to spend its time debating the designs of doors for the newly installed columbarium at Riverview Cemetery?
A columbarium is a structure for the storage of cremated remains. Each urn has a niche to hold it and each niche has a plate or door. Council members have discussed several times how those plates or doors should be decorated.
Last Tuesday evening the councilors were at it again, debating a motion that they had tabled during their last meeting.
That motion would require that columbarium niche plates have a 1/2-inch border, not have reverse engraving, be in good taste and be vetted by the district.
As was pointed out during the debate, there was no definition of “good taste” given. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the whole matter will again land in council’s lap after staff turns down a proposed design – or approves a design that families with adjacent niches find objectionable or simply tacky.
Councilor Bert Walker suggested the question of the columbarium doors and, in fact, the operation of the cemetery itself, be referred to a committee to be made up of interested members of the public. Unfortunately, his suggestion did not get much support from most other members of council.
Local funeral director Drake Smith seems to have done more research than anyone on the question of the niche plates’ design. The niche plates should have a uniform design, Smith told council in a letter delivered during a previous council meeting. Talking to people in the industry, the local funeral director found that those communities that allowed grieving families to design their own niche plates inevitably reversed their decision. Then replacing the individualized plates with ones of uniform appearance was expensive to the communities involved and no doubt emotionally traumatic for the families.
We all seek ways to memorialize our loved ones after they pass away. One niche plate with an unusual or clever design might seem attractive and appropriate when considered by itself. Put it together with several dozen other niche plates, all of them also designed to be unusual and clever, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the overall effect will be less than ideal.
Council should listen to the professionals. There are many places to memorialize a departed loved one. A columbarium, by its very nature and design, is not one of them.
Council also should seek guidance from the public. A group of community members should be formalized into a regular committee and tasked with operating the cemetery in accordance with the standards of the community.