HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A controversy is brewing over a crackdown on items that are allowed to be placed on gravestones at a Town of Hempstead-owned cemetery.

As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported, the town claims it’s strictly a maintenance issue, but critics argue it’s disrespectful.

Gordon Lints, 85, has lived across from the Greenfield Cemetery for more than 40 years. Five years ago, he buried his wife Shirley there and routinely lined the plot with flowers and a light inspired by his wife’s love of butterflies.

“I had a butterfly solar light right against the gravestone,” he said. “I had a beautiful vase that I would put flowers in and I had a little ceramic stone that said ‘stop and smell the flowers.’ That all disappeared.”

Lints said he then confronted a cemetery supervisor.

“I said ‘why are you doing this?’ He said ‘It takes too much time for my men to cut around this junk. You received a letter to take it off and you didn’t, so I am.’ Really nasty,” Lints said.

Lints took pictures of a large pile of items workers removed and put next to a shed. He said he couldn’t find his items and claims plot owners were climbing all over the pile because nothing had been tagged.

Piled of discarded gravestone items at Greenfield Cemetery in Hempsead (credit: CBS 2)

Piled of discarded gravestone items at Greenfield Cemetery in Hempsead (credit: CBS 2)

A Hempstead spokesman denied the items were just dumped, but acknowledged gravestone decorations were blocking workers from maintaining the grounds, Brennan reported.

He added that letters were sent out explaining that gravestones could not be bordered with any of the following forbidden items: signs, boxes, shells, toys, ornaments, vases, rose bushes, bricks or stones, and iron crosses.

Lints pointed out other large displays at other gravestones, arguing the policy is being selectively enforced.

Nearby, Renee Iannucci was visiting her grandparents’ gravestones. She said she has no problem with the crackdown.

“You also have to think of — in terms of maintenance — you want it to look clean and neat, and you might have to forfeit a little,” she said.

Cemetery managers said plot owners were given fair notice before the items were disposed of.

A spokesman for the Town of Hempstead told CBS2 that its rules are similar to other cemeteries, adding the town maintains 94,000 burial plots and that Lints has been the only person to complain.

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