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Kandiyohi County puts zoning for private veterans cemetery on hold

BELGRADE -- No one doubts the good intentions of Marlyn Marquardt to create a privately owned cemetery in northern Kandiyohi County where veterans such as himself and their families can be buried.

BELGRADE - No one doubts the good intentions of Marlyn Marquardt to create a privately owned cemetery in northern Kandiyohi County where veterans such as himself and their families can be buried.
But during a lengthy public hearing Monday, the county’s Planning Commission quizzed Marquardt on how the proposed five-acre cemetery would be maintained after he is no longer there to take care of it.
Under state law, the cemetery could become the financial responsibility of Colfax Township taxpayers, who already help pay the cost of mowing the lawn at an existing cemetery.
“We’re not excited about it,” said Colfax Township Supervisor Larry Urban, who worries about adding another cemetery and potential financial burden to township residents.
Ron Peterson, a member of the Kandiyohi County Planning Commission, said Marquardt’s dream of putting a cemetery for veterans on the Marquardt family farm south of Belgrade is a “wonderful idea.”
But Peterson, who said he is a member of a cemetery association and well-aware of how much money and work it takes to maintain cemeteries, asked Marquardt how his plan could be successful since he would be the sole owner and operator of the cemetery that would need to be maintained forever.
That concern was echoed by other members of the Planning Commission, who on Monday night tabled Marquardt’s request for a conditional use permit.
They asked Marquardt to come to the commission’s Jan. 13 meeting with more information on how the proposed cemetery would be financially structured, governed and operated to make sure it would be maintained in the future and not become a burden to taxpayers.
They asked if Marquardt, who does not have nonprofit status for the cemetery, would consider creating an association with additional supporters who would help carry out a future transition plan.
The action to table the issue will add another month onto a process that Marquardt started about six years ago when he first proposed building a cemetery with 500 burial lots and a proposed 210-foot-long columbarium wall for the cremated remains of several hundred individuals.
Marquardt wants to build the cemetery next to his struggling Mar-Haven Greens golf course, which he painstakingly built over the years specifically for veterans.
“I applaud your idea,” said John Hauge, another member of the Planning Commission. “I think you’re well-intentioned.”
But Hauge said the lack of visible support from local veterans groups, and the lack of evidence that another cemetery is needed in the county, has him concerned about the viability of Marquardt’s plan and the possibility of “passing a burden onto the township.”
Marquardt said the only place he wants to be buried is at a cemetery on his farm and he believes other veterans and their families who aren’t associated with a church will also want to be buried there.
Although Marquardt said the state’s cemeteries for veterans are filling up, Zoning Administrator Gary Geer said his research shows that it will be decades before cemeteries such as that at Fort Snelling are filled up and that multimillion-dollar expansions are planned throughout the state at existing veterans’ cemeteries, where veterans are buried at no charge in well-kept grounds.

Marquardt acknowledged he’s had trouble getting people interested in his project, other than a group of 50 “charter members.” But he said not having a conditional use permit prevents him from marketing his plan.
Marquardt said he has not let the roadblocks stop him in the long process.
In 2007, the county Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for Marquardt, but the permit was then denied by the County Board.
In 2008, the permit was approved by the County Board with the requirement that Marquardt provide a $50,000 check to the county for a perpetual care fund, with the interest to be used to maintain the cemetery.
When Marquardt was unable to meet the 90-day deadline to come up with that money, the county revoked the conditional use permit.
Since that time, Marquardt said he has been working to advance his plans. He told the Planning Commission that he sold 40 acres of his farmland to raise $50,000 that he is ready to deposit with the county.
In his staff report on Monday, Geer had recommended approval of the conditional use permit with the same $50,000 deposit for a perpetual care fund that the county approved in 2008.
But at the current low interest rates, Peterson said that would generate about $100 a year. He said that’s not nearly enough money to cover the cost of mowing and maintaining a cemetery in a manner that veterans and their families deserve.
Unlike approving a conditional use permit for a building that may last for a few decades, Peterson said there is “unending responsibility” with caring for a cemetery that the commission needs to consider before taking action on Marquardt’s permit.
“It’s an extremely noble cause,” said Jeff Johnson, a Planning Commission member, who said asking Marquardt to come back for another meeting in January should not give him the impression that the proposal would be approved then.
Marquardt said if his large cemetery plan is not approved, at the very least, he wants to have a small cemetery where he and his charter members can be buried.

Related Topics: KANDIYOHI COUNTY
Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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