Chelsea City Council vacates Old Pumpkin Swamp Road

Published 7:59 pm Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Chelsea City Council voted to vacate ownership of certain portions of Old Pumpkin Swamp Road on Tuesday, July 20, amid controversy during the public hearing in the council chambers.

The road, which connects Shelby County highways 51 and 32, runs through the center of Union Methodist Church’s cemetery.

Brice Collins, the cemetery’s board of directors, said he was concerned that traffic through the cemetery was vibrating the road and rattling tombstones off their pedestals, as well as causing potholes that would force traffic to drive into the cemetery’s grass.

“We aren’t going to hurt the deceased people in the cemetery,” said Collins, who sent the city the original petition to vacate the road. “We’re going to hurt the property.”

To stem the flow of traffic, Collins erected two barriers at either end of the road in January.

“Those barricades were put up in January and they haven’t taken them down since and we don’t have access to it,” said Waylan Cooper, who opposed the city’s vacation of the road.

“If you close that road, there’s no access to the cemetery for elderly or disabled people, except crossing the highway, so they can visit loved ones in the cemetery,” Cooper said.

In Collins’ original letter, read by Cooper at the meeting, he said the road was being used by 50-70 vehicles each morning and evening to bypass the intersection of Shelby County 51 and 32.

Cooper said he planted a hidden motion camera in the cemetery facing the road, and he only recorded two vehicles utilizing the road during the course of three days.

“I would say my gates are working and I rest my case,” Collins responded.

Mark Boardman, the attorney for Union Methodist Church, explained that Collins’ original plan, pending the city’s vacation of the road, was not to close it completely, but to erect gates and limit access to only certain hours per day. He said Collins would suggest the church only allow the gates open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Mayor Earl Niven asked if he were to visit the cemetery at 7:15 a.m., would he be able to get inside.

“I’d come let you in myself,” said the Rev. John Hill, who became pastor at Union Methodist four weeks ago. “I live across the street.”

When council member Ricky King asked William Harrison, attorney for the opponents of the proposed ordinance to vacate the road, why his clients disapproved of the city’s vacation of the road, Harrison explained his clients had misunderstood the church’s intentions.

“We came here tonight thinking they were going to close the road, but in testimony somet things came out,” Harrison said. “The controversy seemed to go up in smoke.”

The city council voted unanimously to vacate the road.

“I think this is really a church issue,” Niven said. “I’m a peaceful guy and I hope this hasn’t hurt any of the members at Union.”