The Historic Oak Grove Cemetery Board of Directors has been working with the City of Conway to make sure the historic cemetery is not an afterthought in the excitement of the 151-acre, mixed-use lifestyle center Central Landing.

The Historic Oak Grove Cemetery is located directly south of Cantrell Field’s east-west runway, making the cemetery a close neighbor to proposed Central Landing development.

The latest site plan from developer Jim Wilson & Associates shows a four-acre "bowling lanes" development to the north of the cemetery and an unidentified parcel or parcels zoned for either single-family residential, multifamily residential, commercial/retail, office or institutional use to the west of the cemetery.

The board of directors looks at Central Landing as a great new neighbor, said Chris Odom, treasurer and resident historian, but wanted to make sure the cemetery maintained accessibility and visibility.

Leading up to the Conway City Council meeting in which Central Landing would be approved as a Planned Unit Development, the board met with the planning department to see if the city would support Oak Grove by placing a condition on the development, Odom said.

"We wanted a condition on the PUD," Odom said, "to make sure Oak Grove wasn’t walled off or blocked."

Wes Craiglow, deputy director of planning & development, said he made sure the boards’ concerns were part of the city’s conversations about Central Landing.

"They feared development would have its back to the cemetery," he said. "But behind all these stores there’s actually a historic cemetery with some of the city’s earliest leaders."

Conway City Council agreed with the boards’ concerns and added a condition to the Central Landing PUD that would first add a 800 foot by 100 foot strip of land to the cemetery’s northern border, and second, ensure the future Equity Avenue alignment will be developed to create "cemetery viewsheds where practical and appropriate."

It wasn’t clear however, how visitors would enter the cemetery, said Volunteer Manager Chris Spatz, so the board is working with the city to determine where the new entrance to the cemetery will be.

The current entrance is at the east end of Bruce Street, but there are plans to reroute Bruce, which currently dead-ends at the cemetery, as a thoroughfare through Central Landing. The Oak Grove board wants the cemetery’s new entrance on the new Bruce Street, with a connector running along its new northern border.

Spatz said the 100-foot by 800-foot area equates to about two acres where the board is planning to plot 500 to 700 new gravesites. In the meantime, Odom said, the land will act as a natural buffer between existing graves and construction.

Odom said Central Landing would also be an opportunity for the Historic Oak Grove Cemetery to raise awareness and visibility, while encouraging more people to enjoy the cemetery as public "greenspace."

"I don’t think it will be a huge destination spot, but certainly a historic spot that draws certain visitors to town," he said. "It also serves as greenspace — important to any city."

During the city council meeting Director of Planning & Development Bryan Patrick talked about how larger cities like Atlanta, use historic cemeteries like parks. "It might seem odd," Odom said, "but it really is a nice open greenspace."

Odom said he often sees people sitting or eating lunch at the cemetery. There are also people who like to walk the cemetery for exercise, he said.

"The cemetery board is really wanting to make it a place where people feel comfortable," Odom said. "As long as it’s maintained as a place of reverence, it’s nice to have folks out there."

Craiglow said he encourages the board to manage the cemetery in a way that it becomes "part of the life" of the area. "If they want to do a park, historic tours, Silver Moon Cinema — it’s totally up to them, but I would love to see that cemetery become a source of pride for the community."

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