Owner of Historic Pawtucket Cemetery Ordered To Stop Work on His Land

A Pawtucket cemetery owner has been ordered by the city to stop all work on his land. The owner says he was just trying to clean the place up, but cemetery committee members who work to preserve historic burial grounds, say he could have disturbed gravestones.

Joe Franco says he finally got the money he needed to restore the oldest side of the Historic Walnut Hill Cemetery. The side where thick trees and brush cover hundred year old gravestones. But just as he began clearing the land, the city ordered him to stop and negative accusations of his intentions began to spiral out of control.

Franco says the city's order to stop him from doing what he believes is improving the land, is preposterous.

“You're stopping me from digging stumps out and planting grass? I mean this is totally bizarre it's like I'm in the twilight zone,” said Franco.

He's kept up the Historic Walnut Hill Cemetery since 1994, when he purchased the property.

Franco points to where the work started, “This is where I started digging up the stumps, and then I was told to stop.”

A member of the new Ad Hoc Pawtucket Cemetery Committee, Ken Postle, noticed the work and reported it to the building and zoning department.

Postle says, “there could possibly be desecration of veteran monuments and also loss of historical monuments that the city doesn't even know that it has.”

Postle points out Rhode Island state law, which requires a permit for any altering of a historic cemetery, a permit Franco didn't think he needed.

Pawtucket Building and Zoning Director Ronald Travers says, “anybody that owns property, that owns a cemetery, a historical cemetery, is required to go before the city council and obtain a permit before they do alterations of any type.”

Franco was slapped with a cease and desist order. But he says what aggravated him even more than that, was some of the accusations that followed.  People said Franco planned to build on top of the old stones, and resell the graves. Accusations he says turns his stomach.

Franco said, “You think these people that are buried here want stumps growing through their burial sites, I mean come on it's common sense.”

The building and zoning department have given Franco an April 5th deadline to submit plans for his project and obtain a permit. He's also been cited in the past for putting a shed on the property without obtaining a permit. Franco owes a 250 dollar fine for that citation.

Pawtucket City Council president David Moran, says the council will review the city's permit ordinances at their next meeting.