After 63 years, Trumbull cemetery to finally allow headstones

Photo of Amanda Cuda
Flags mark the grave markers of veterans at Gate of Heaven Cemetery on May 22, 2018.

Flags mark the grave markers of veterans at Gate of Heaven Cemetery on May 22, 2018.


TRUMBULL — After more than 60 years, a Trumbull cemetery is getting something it never had before — headstones.

The town's Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5 to 1 at a recent meeting to allow Gate of Heaven Cemetery, 1056 Daniels Farm Road, to expand and allow headstones in the small expanded area. The decision amends a condition of a zoning approval from Aug. 8, 1959 that only allowed flat grave markers in the cemetery.

It also represents a turning point for the cemetery and those who wish to use it, said attorney Raymond Rizio, of the firm Russo & Rizio LLC, which represented the Diocese of Bridgeport in the application. 

"We have a great demand for headstones," Rizio said. "This is the only cemetery in Trumbull that has this limitation." 

This is not the first attempt to modify the condition. In 2021, the Diocese of Bridgeport submitted an application to add headstones at the cemetery, only to yank the application due to the objections of neighbors who felt adding headstones would alter the character of the cemetery.

At this month's Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Rizio presented a new plan, which he hoped would address some of the neighbors' concerns. Under the new plan, Gate of Heaven would expand to the east with a new roadway.

The expansion area would sits "significantly downgrade from the existing burial area with an even greater buffer from neighboring residential properties," according to a letter submitted to the town by attorney Christopher B. Russo on behalf of the applicant.

This new section — which would have space for 1,745 graves and 302 cremation plots —  is the only place in the cemetery where headstones would be allowed.

"Headstones would be buffered from the existing cemetery," Rizio said. "You have to almost go down a separate street to go down to where the headstones will be. It would almost be like a mini cemetery within the cemetery."

The expansion was already approved by the Inland Wetlands Commission in September.

One member of the public spoke about the application, Greg Csernica of Wildfire Lane. Csernica, who lives near the property, also sits on the Wetlands commission but said he recused himself during the commission's discussion of the application. Csernica had multiple questions on the application, but commended the applicants on the changes they had made.

"The cemetery put in a lot of effort on cleaning up the application," he said.

Among things, Csernica wanted to know if there would be a height limit on the headstones in the cemetery expansion, and pointed out that a previous version of the application had a height limit of four feet. Rizio said he would be fine with such a limit.

However, Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Fred Garrity said he was hesitant to put such a limit on the headstones.

"When you have grave markers that are unique, that is part of the attraction of the cemetery," he said. "When you say only four feet, you’re talking about just making a cookie-cutter cemetery of headstones. There would be very little uniqueness.  I’m not in favor of the height (limit), because of this enclave that’s being created is going to be totally enclosed."

Commissioner Tony D’Aquila said he was in favor of the four-foot limit, in the interest of preventing anything too ostentatious.

"The ones that look disgraceful have any height you want," he said.

When a height limit of six feet was suggested, D'Aquila maintained that four feet was what he wanted. Ultimately, the commission voted to approve the application with the six-foot height limit and D'Aquila casting the only dissenting vote.