Development is a grave matter
June 12, 2008 · Updated 9:59 AM
"Since retiring last August, Spencer Masters wanted to build a home on property he inherited in Port Orchard.After my retirement, I sold my home near San Jose, Calif., said the 62-year-old ex-mechanic. I never really liked living there, I just followed the job. With a home in Port Orchard, Masters said he can be closer to his children, who live on the east side of Puget Sound, and his brother, who resides in Sequim. But there's a glitch in his retirement plans, according to a state law Masters wasn't familiar with before last year. That 5.5-acre site he wants developed also happens to be a 110-year-old cemetery.Called Sidney Cemetery, records show Kitsap County designated the property-located just south of Poplar Street on Sidney Avenue-a cemetery site in 1891. Masters can't build on it until a Kitsap County Superior Court judge says otherwise.Masters said he'll seek such a court ruling and has spoken with the state Cemetery Board about the next step.Masters must either prove no human remains are buried at the cemetery, or prove any remains are located in a centralized area that can be fenced off and protected.To that end, Masters will need to hire an archeologist to study the property, which can be cost-prohibitive. Before Masters realized his plans must change, other legal and paperwork problems cropped up when he tried to clear trees from the property sometime last September. The problems got worse when he investigated the property's history further.County officials informed Masters he couldn't build unless the court reversed the cemetery designation. Masters reportedly told county staff that no bodies were currently buried there.Masters said only three interments took place at the cemetery over the last century. He said two Civil War veterans-known to him only as the Smith brothers-were buried there, and their remains were moved to the Knights of Pythias graveyard in Port Orchard in 1959. The other grave, Masters said, was removed by his aunt and uncle, who died years ago.But Masters was told by officials that bodies or no bodies, a cemetery is a cemetery.When Washington State Cemetery Association members got wind of Masters' plans to develop, many sent off a flurry of protest e-mails to city and county officials, as well as to Masters. I got e-mails from all over the country--from Connecticut, Idaho and other places, making allegations that aren't true. That's just not fair, he said.Letterwriters accused Masters of desecrating the cemetery's grave sites with a bulldozer while clearing trees. Masters claims there are no more graves to desecrate.When he started clearing in September, neighbors called the city, wondering why a bulldozer and a flatbed truck were being used to remove trees.City engineer Larry Curles said it's not illegal to clear trees from a cemetery. But city officials, worried about erosion problems for salmon in nearby Blackjack Creek, issued Masters a stop-work order in October. Curles told Masters that if he wanted to continue clearing, he should apply for an excavation permit and install erosion controls.The city also received e-mail messages from cemetery association members, and Curles responded to every one. It's the city's position that no building permits will be issued until the cemetery designation is removed, Curles explained. Masters doesn't disagree."