Crematory Discussion Reopened

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Thursday December 01, 2011

A potential crematory, to be located in South Burlington’s Meadowlands Industrial Park, has once again become a contested topic. On November 15, the Development Review Board (DRB) heard a request for reconsideration of CU-11-02, the application by O’Brien Meadowlands, LLC for conditional use of 5,000 square feet of property at 472 Meadowland Drive for the operation of the crematory. The application, along with SP-11-14, the site plan for a 60,000 multi-tenant industrial building, had been approved by the Development Review Board on August 31, 2011. At the recent November 15 meeting, engineer Scott Homested, speaking on behalf of Stephen Gregory, business owner/operator, presented a new request relating to hours of operation.
Mr. Homested asked for clarification and received confirmation from the DRB that its original permission for up to 40 hours of business operation Monday through Friday pertained specifically to the use of the cremation system rather than to administrative tasks. The cremation operating system is called “Power Pak II” and is manufactured by Matthews International. The use of this system was approved by the DRB as part of the CU application in August. 

Based on that clarification, Homested requested that the 40 hours per week of operation include the flexibility for using weekend hours when necessary. Business owner Stephen Gregory, also present at the meeting, explained that the ability to use the cremation equipment on the weekends would allow the business to meet the needs of families requiring their services at these times. He suggested that any weekend hours would be deducted from the following week so that the total 40 hours of operation would not be surpassed.

The request to use weekend hours to operate the cremation facility brought up several issues. The business under consideration has chosen a location in an Industrial Open Space Zoning District (IO), which is in compliance with city regulations. However, there are several residential neighborhoods in close proximity with the industrial park, which has led to concerns about air pollution. The DRB’s decision back in August spoke to this issue. It read, “the DRB must find that the development will not adversely affect the essential character of the neighborhood or district in which the property is located, nor ability to develop adjacent property for appropriate uses... the Board finds that in order to minimize any adverse impacts to the planned character of neighborhood by introducing incineration (cremation) into the IO district and the surrounding area, the applicant shall adhere to the conditions as outlined in A.4 and A.5 above.”

A.4 speaks to the matter of air pollution. It prohibits “visible emission of any kind at ground level, past the lot line of the property on which the source of the emissions is located.” A.4 also references the independent study done by Stantec Consulting Engineers of Pennsylvania last July, “Review Findings for the Matthews Power-Pak II System,” which found that “the proposed unit can be operated in compliance with performance standards A.4 and A.5 of the South Burlington Land Use Regulations effective March 15, 2011.”

A.5 addresses the issue of odors and reads, “no emissions shall be permitted of odorous gases or other odorous matter in such quantities as to be readily detected or as to interfere unreasonably with the comfort of the public. Any process, which may involve the creation or emission of any odors shall be provided with a secondary safeguards system so that control will be maintained if the primary safeguard system should fail.” The DRB, based on the Stantec study, found that the facility would “be in compliance with the visible emission and pollution discharge requirements of the Vermont Air Pollution Control Division during its operation.”

According to Stephen Gregory, crematory emissions are not odorous or visible. One member of the DRB noted that the crematory on Allen Road emits some heat, but otherwise has little impact on the immediate area. However, some residents who live nearby are concerned about mercury emissions dispersed into the air when dental fillings are burned. Neither the EPA nor the Air Pollution Control Division have set standards for mercury emissions. On page three of the Stantec study, item # 9 states in part: “According to the data retained by the APCD, a single crematorium’s mercury emissions would not meet the action level set by the state in terms of lbs. of emissions/8hrs of operation.” The Board thus concluded that the crematorium “shall therefore operate for no more than eight (8) consecutive hours per day during the week and shall not operate on the weekends. Prior to permit issuance, the applicant shall provide the Administrative Officer, in writing, the chosen hours of operation.” At the November 15 meeting, Homested announced that the applicant had just received their permit from the Vermont Air Pollution Control Division.

South Burlington resident Mark Abrams, an outspoken opponent of the proposed crematory, questioned the advisability of situating it so close to residential neighborhoods given the lack of information and regulations concerning crematory air pollution and mercury levels in particular. In a letter printed in The Other Paper on August 25, he additionally objected to the location of the crematory near residences on grounds of “quality of life” issues, despite the acknowledged value of business development in South Burlington. In a follow-up statement on November 27, Mr. Abrams said he hopes that the DRB “would not incrementally move away from the wisdom of their original decision.” He continues to believe that “this location does not seem suitable for his [Mr. Gregory’s] needs as outlined.” At press time, Mr. Gregory had not been reached for further comment.

Location of the crematory in an Industrial Open Space Zoning District fits within the current regulations of the City of South Burlington concerning mortuaries and funeral homes.  The City currently has no regulations concerning crematories per se. Residents and members of the DRB have voiced health and quality of life concerns due to the crematory’s proximity to residential neighborhoods as well as insufficient data about the safety of crematory emissions. Despite assurances by the applicant that the manufacturer of the Power Pak II equipment will train operating personnel, provide annual training updates and that there will be ongoing monitoring, there are remaining concerns. Since impact on the community cannot fully be anticipated, uncertainty abounds.

The public hearing closed on November 15. The DRB has 45 days during which to consider the new request for more flexible hours of operation. Chair Mark Behr expects to have a decision within that period of time.

SOURCE: Lois Price, Correspondent