The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno plans to construct a new cemetery in northwest Bakersfield to account for an expected need for space.
On Thursday, the Kern County Planning Commission narrowly approved a conditional use permit for the 12-acre site that is proposed for agricultural land south of Vega Meadows Road and east of Renfro Road.
“The objective for us is to develop and maintain a beautiful cemetery, both inside and outside the property,” Carlos Rascon, cemetery director for the Diocese of Fresno, said during Thursday’s commission meeting. “We want to be a good neighbor, one that takes pride in the appearance and the condition of this property.”
The 3-2 approval, with commissioners Lauren Skidmore and Gregory McGiffney voting against it, came over the forceful objections of nearby residents, who primarily worry the cemetery could lower home values and bring unwanted visitors to a peaceful neighborhood.
“Green space is beautiful,” homeowner Nicole Roberts said in a phone interview with The Californian. “This just doesn’t seem like anything I ever wanted to live near.”
The project would be Bakersfield’s fifth active cemetery, and the first to serve exclusively Catholics and their immediate family. The site would include a 14,726-square-foot mausoleum, along with an office and shop.
In the works for more than 10 years, Rascon said during the meeting the Catholic Church had considered several other properties, only to back away after realizing those properties were unfit or the price was too high.
He said the growth of Bakersfield would require an additional cemetery eventually.
“The need for a cemetery is coming whether it’s from us or another agency,” he told commissioners.
Local residents, however, feel differently. More than a dozen showed up to the commission meeting Thursday in an attempt to stop the approval. Concerns over traffic, the impact on local views, even the prospect of explaining death to children were voiced as reasons for the cemetery to go elsewhere.
“If someone wants to build a cemetery, that is obviously fine, we need cemeteries, but do it in a place where there are no homes already,” a woman who identified herself as Mandy Cunningham said during the public comment portion of the meeting on Thursday. “It’s just not a neighborly thing to do… If you’re a good neighbor, you would not build next to us.”
Although the commission allowed the cemetery to move forward, an appeal could bring the matter before the Kern County Board of Supervisors, which could overturn the approval.
According to planning documents, funeral services will take place at the cemetery from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with visitations allowed from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Diocese expects the site to draw five to 10 visitors during weekdays and 15 to 20 on the weekend.