by ALICIA LEONARD
The DeFuniak Springs Planning Board met at their regularly scheduled time on Sept. 6. The board opened to unanimously approve the Aug. 1, 2011 minutes before moving on to the one request on their agenda.
Jerry Evans Funeral Home LLC requested and received a place on the agenda for a public hearing seeking approval to construct and operate a crematorium within a C-1 Commercial Restricted District. The board had the ability make a recommendation to the DeFuniak Springs City Council to approve, approval with conditions or deny the request at their Sept. 12 meeting.
DeFuniak Springs City Planner Greg Scoville told the board about the project request, “We don’t have a lot of city standards to review under something like this but the plan was reviewed and all applicable city codes can be met.”
Ernie Price spoke on behalf of the applicant to the board. Price acknowledged the recent controversy surrounding cremation in DeFuniak Springs but “We have been busy getting our permits with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). They have come out and done their studies and filled out their permits. The DEP has given us their go-ahead to proceed as soon as the city gives us the authorization. I know that might sound a little premature, but through the city telling us to proceed and conversations with Mr. Scoville saying we need to proceed to the next step. That was one of the requirements and we went ahead to get through with that.”
Price continued, “They (FDEP) don’t feel that there is any type of jeopardy or concern.”
Planning Board Member Lee Thomas responded with a question to Price, “I have a question. When the event takes place, the matter that comes out is invisible?” Price responded, “Yes, sir. It’s called particulate matter. It’s so small, it’s hard to actually measure or count.”
Thomas asked more questions of Price, such as how high particulate matter traveled. Price responded that he didn’t know exactly, and could only go by what the environmental and state departments told him was safe.
After more discussion, Thomas said he would feel better to have more information to base his decision on.
Price responded that he had not come armed with data, “We weren’t even going to speak tonight. We feel like a lot of people in this community have made a very good case for and against. We were just going to come here tonight and observe the situation and I’m sorry I came ill prepared. In all honesty, I thought you guys would be bored and tired with getting into the trenches with it.”
Thomas responded, “We truly haven’t heard that much. We want to hear from both sides.”
DeFuniak Springs City Attorney Clay Adkinson interjected for the record,”If the applicant has any information to submit to the board, that is what this decision, tonight, will be based upon.”
Price told the board, “I’m not a scientist and I don’t have endless resources to apply to this, but I trust what the government, the state, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection say, and they see it’s justified, and clean and safe to put one in.”
Jerry Evans also approached the board and told them he and Price had decided to lease the machines needed for seven-year intervals, so the business could continually upgrade to newer and newer technology.
Citizen Dennis Ray approached the board and asked if the issue of allowing crematoriums as special exceptions was being looked at again. Scoville responded, “No, the application for this crematorium came at a time when the Council amended the code to repeal those recommendations. They got in under the window you might say and so we are going through the process of considering his request to allow a crematory in that location.”
Ray said their was confusion in the community as to where “we are right now with this or else they would be here. This room would be overflowing again. The citizens have said they do not want this type of process in these types of locations where the request are being made.”
Evans was the last business that had that window of opportunity to request an exception, due to their application falling between the repeal.
Adkinson reminded the board that they could take into account the size, use of, and location of the building as well as the safety, and welfare of those living around a special exception area: “You have to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of the nearby residents and residential property will be properly provided.”
Thomas made the motion to deny the request for the crematorium, “I make a motion we do not approve and this might not be good for the residents in the area.” Adkinson asked Thomas, “Are you making that motion because the health, safety and welfare of the public and they might not be properly provided for?” Thomas responded, “Yes, sir, I just don’t have enough information and I feel it could be dangerous.”
The motion carried unanimously.