By ASHLEY AMASON
Concerned residents crowded the Council room and hallways at the DeFuniak Springs City Council July 11 regarding a rezoning request from Clary-Glenn Funeral Home. The request would rezone the property now located in an R-1 single family residential area to a C-1 commercial district, and upon special approval from the Council allow a crematorium in light of the recently adopted ordinance 801. The ordinance arose from a request from Evans’ Funeral Home, located in a C-1 district on Walton Rd., to allow crematoriums as a special exception use upon approval in a C-1 district. The initial request was presented at the March 28 meeting of the previous Council, authorized for advertisement and first reading at the May 23 meeting by the current Council, and adopted at the June 13 meeting.
Councilman Mac Work motioned to repeal the ordinance, stating, “Time to time, I make a mistake. I’m man enough to stand up and tell you I made one. I think in my heart, I made a mistake in voting for the crematorium ordinance. So therefore, I’m going to try to rectify that wrong. I hereby move that we instruct staff, which would be [City Attorney] Clayton [Adkinson], to prepare an ordinance that would repeal 801 as it relates to special approval of crematoriums in the C-1 districts.”
Councilman Ron Kelley added, “Well, I originally made the motion to grant this because I’m in favor of businesses being able to expand and grow, and like most people I assumed the crematory process was ashes to ashes and dust to dust. But I began to look at the facts about it, I checked out EPA standards ad conclusions about it and talked to people, and I too came to have some serious concerns about it. I’m especially concerned about it being an allowable use in that commercial district, because as you know we have commercial districts all over the city and I would hate to deliberately place us in a position where we by our own action have kicked out the only protections we have for folk. So I have to join Mac in saying I have some serious concerns about that.”
Adkinson added, “If the Council does in fact approve Mr. Work’s motion, then there will be two public readings. There will be a first reading of that repeal ordinance then there will be a public hearing….the decision tonight cannot be made to repeal that ordinance. The only thing we can do tonight is prepare an ordinance, it will be properly advertised then [there] will be a public hearing concerning that ordinance…We’ve got to go through the same process of repealing it that we did in adopting it.”
He clarified, “If this ordinance is repealed, then there could not be application for special approval of crematoriums in the C-1 district.”
Councilman Kermit Wright asked, “Can we make the businesses whole that have put money toward this venture?”
“Understand,” Adkinson said, “whatever money they put forward was at their own peril….” He noted one application for special approval based on ordinance 801 had been submitted. “[That applicant] still has opportunity to have the planning board and [the Council] consider that application for special approval, and that will be hearings that are separate and apart from this repeal ordinance” he said.
Several residents spoke for and against repealing the ordinance.
Patrick Ditman recommended a “closed loop chimney system” for crematoriums so toxins would not “adversely affect our own environment and basically poison ourselves and our neighbors.”
Star Fisel, owner of Beef O’Brady’s said, “I’m a business owner here in town…I just wanted to let you know I’m not opposed to Mr. Glenn having a crematorium. It’s close to my business and I don’t see a problem with it.”
Adkinson replied, “That’s not what’s before the Council tonight. Mr. Glenn went before the planning board… and that will be before the Council…the first meeting in August [Aug. 8].”
Floyd Lathinghouse said, “I have met with Joel [Glenn] on several occasions because my wife and I both…want to be cremated, and knowing where Clary-Glenn is, I talked with him very seriously about what the dangers were because I have two aunts who live right across the street almost and I want to make sure that things were above board for everybody. After talking with Joel and knowing what the safety features are within the system, it seems to me like Clary-Glenn’s hands are being tied…I would like to see that the funeral home can go ahead with what its provisions are…I cannot imagine Clary-Glen doing anything that would not be safety-oriented for everybody…”
Jeanine Cole asked “Is your opinion of us in such low esteem that you believe we cannot see a correlation between rezoning and where this is going…Can you morally say that beyond a shadow of a doubt that our health and our children’s health will not be adversely affected by rezoning and what it is facilitating…?”
Wes Reeder of Emmanuel Sheppard and Condon Attorneys at Law in Pensacola spoke on behalf of his client Clary-Glenn Funeral Home. “I came here tonight to speak regarding this issue…but following the comments that I just heard, I just want to point out to you that I do know that you went through the process of deciding to approve the amendment, ordinance 801, to allow for crematoriums to be added as a special use in the commercial district and I assume in that process you would have an opportunity to gather information and to review facts regarding what that means, how these crematoriums operate, and so forth and so on. And I would submit to you…with respect to the motion that is before the Council now…if you take this action and place this in a posture to repeal this ordinance, in fact that’s a de facto denial of my client’s, of the process that he has that’s going to follow this [ordinance]. So I submit to you that you’ve made the right decision in providing people the opportunity [for use exception upon special approval]…I urge you tonight to not take any action to go forward with a repeal of ordinance 801.”
Reeder stated he sent a letter to the Council earlier that day citing other municipalities’ ordinances relative to 801, detailing state and federal safety regulations to protect the public interest and health.
Dr. Melinda Henderson announced she too submitted a letter to the planning board and Council. “I do not believe that a crematorium belongs in a residential neighborhood,” she said. Adkinson reiterated the Council was not at this time addressing zoning. Henderson replied, “The content and the argument is the same, whether you’re talking about repealing 801, because that ordinance is specific to funeral homes. It is one-industry and two-individual directed, the whole ordinance is, and it’s only to allow crematoriums and I can say I am for the repeal of the ordinance because of the same reasons as the variance. I do not believe they belong in a residential neighborhood….I am pro-business. I realize that they need to keep up with the current trends. I want Mr. Glenn to cremate me when I die. I am not against cremation. I hope that he does not have to go a long way to cremate me, but at the same time I do not want to put my neighbors at risk health-wise, nor at risk for decreased property values because there is a smoke stack in their neighborhood…We are now known for our historic community, we are trying very desperately to get tourists to come, we don’t need those kinds of odors…There are no credible state or local jurisdiction or agency to regulate the pollutants that are emitted…you don’t have anybody on your staff that can go out and measure these pollutants and tell whether or not they’re in a safe range, and some of these things don’t have safety ranges established…I would support repealing this ordinance. This gives us the opportunity to do the right thing. Let’s figure out a win-win situation. Let’s help Mr. Glenn get what he needs to keep up with the industry but not in a highly-populated area.”
Read the full story in the July 14, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.