Plot owners at Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery, the country's second largest pet burial ground, are fighting plans of a development group to build medical offices on three of the cemetery's 7.7 acres. The owners say the cemetery's beauty would be marred by construction and are opposing the required zoning change.
"I know we're just the little guys in this matter," said Noel Bob O'Dell of Northwest Washington, who purchased plots at the Silver Spring cemetery for his dog, himself and his half brother. "Aspin Hill has the most tranquil and beautiful atmosphere, and I'm afraid this development might change all of that."
Plot owners at the 65-year-old cemetery on Georgia Avenue, where more than 50,000 animals -- and 30 pet owners -- are buried, have sent a petition opposing the development to county zoning officials.
The developers, the Northgate Professional Park Partnership, which is managed by E. Brooke Lee III, plan to build on land occupied by several buildings, but said they would not disturb the graves.
The four-member partnership has had a contract for a year to buy the entire 7.7-acre cemetery from Silver Spring veterinarian Edgar Ruebush and his wife June.
Lee said his company is working on a legally binding agreement that would fulfill existing contracts by granting plot owners access to the grave sites. However, no new burial contracts will be accepted, he said.
Sale of the cemetery is contingent on rezoning that would allow construction of a strip of office town houses at the southwest corner of Aspen Hill Road and Georgia Avenue. While the planning board has given preliminary approval to the change, plot owners contend that they were not given adequate notice of rezoning hearings.
One of 23 pet cemeteries in the United States, Aspin Hill is the final resting place for cats, birds, horses and dogs, including seven dogs that belonged to late FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
Zoning problems aside, O'Dell, 50, a security supervisor at the Paralyzed Veterans of America office in Washington, still plans to be buried at Aspin Hill, next to the cremated remains of his half brother, Edward Hulburt Rich, who died last January. A plot is also reserved for his 13-year-old collie, Punkin.
"My brother and I love Punkin so much," O'Dell said, "that we decided we would be buried there together."