A couple who had their 10-month-old son buried on their five-acre property because they couldn't afford a burial plot must designate the land as a grave site or face the possibility of fines, township officials said.
The commissioners in Colebrookdale Township, about 35 miles northwest of Philadelphia, said the Dodson family needs a zoning variance in case they move and want to come back to visit the boy's grave. The commissioners say the burial constitutes a zoning violation that could result in daily fines.
James Dodson said he couldn't afford a burial plot for his son Jesse, who died in August of a congenital liver condition that left the family with more than $30,000 in medical bills. He said he and his wife, Chantal, are "barely making ends meet" and also cannot afford the zoning application fee, which he said is $650.
"I chose to do this version of home burial because he's very young," Dodson told the Reading Eagle newspaper for a story Thursday. "I can't even describe the sadness. We simply couldn't afford to go buy a plot."
The Dodsons' attorney, Ryan Paddick, asked the board in December to consider waiving the zoning fee. The board said it didn't have that ability but agreed to postpone proceedings until January to give the Dodsons time to pay the fee.
This week, the board voted to issue a citation, saying that the couple had plenty of time to resolve the issue. The penalty could be up to $500 a day.
"We just need to mark this area, agree how it's going to be marked as a cemetery in perpetuity," said Jeff Karver, Colebrookdale Township's solicitor. "We sympathize with any parent who loses children and we don't mean to make their situation any more difficult."
Board president Todd Gamler said he doesn't believe a citation will be issued and he is confident the issue will be resolved.
"We know it's a sensitive issue, and we do feel for them," Gamler said. "But with them ignoring our response, it worried the board."
Dodson said he would like to resolve the situation but returning to his son's grave to take measurements for an easement is difficult.
"It is so hard to look at his name over and over and over again," he said.
Information from: Reading Eagle, http://www.readingeagle.com/