By Bill Short
The Millington Municipal Planning Commission voted last week to recommend an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance that would add crematories as a permitted use.
Commission members took the action during their June 18 regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Mike Caruthers and seconded by Leanna Dagen.
The motion was passed by a 5-1 vote, with Brenda Barber dissenting and Curtis Park absent.
Charles Goforth, planning consultant for the city, said the Zoning Ordinance currently contains no definition for a funeral home or a crematory.
“A funeral home is not a specifically permitted use,” he noted. “It’s considered a service facility.”
The proposed amendment would define a funeral home as a funeral service establishment, including funeral merchandise and funeral directing.
A crematory would be defined as a building, structure, room or space in a building that has been certified by the state of Tennessee for the cremation of deceased persons and is a part of a funeral home.
The crematory would be limited to one single-unit cremator designed to cremate the remains of one deceased person at a time.
Goforth said the Board of Zoning Appeals can only grant a “special exception” for a use that is specifically listed as such in the Zoning Ordinance.
So, the proposed amendment would allow the BZA to permit crematories in certain zoning districts as special exceptions.
An application would first have to be submitted to the planning commission for a recommendation and then to the BZA, which would conduct a public hearing.
All property owners within 500 feet would be notified and given an opportunity to support or oppose the application.
Goforth noted that the three funeral homes in Millington are all located in a B-2 Commercial zoning district, and crematories are not currently permitted.
Robert Talley, attorney for Jefferson Mortuary in Millington and its owner Preston Jefferson, told the commission that 35 percent of all funerals in Tennessee and more than 50 percent in the nation are now cremations.
While noting that all of Millington’s funeral homes conduct cremations, he said they must currently use one of those located in Memphis for that.
Talley said Jefferson is proposing to spend almost $250,000 to renovate a building on his property. And he will submit drawings for that to the planning commission “at some point in time.”
But if the amendment allows him to do only his own cremations, Talley said there will not be “enough traffic” to return his investment.
Thomas R. Krowl is vice president of marketing for Cremation Systems in South Holland, Ill. He is also a certified crematory operator who teaches a certification class for the Cremation Association of North America.
In response to a question by Caruthers, Krowl said a modern human cremation chamber emits about one-third of the “particulate” or smoke that a wood-burning fireplace creates.
He said it is a “two-part system” consisting of a main chamber that starts the ignition and an after-burner chamber that consumes the smoke.
Caruthers asked whether it would “logical” to set a limit on the number of cremations that can be done in a day. Krowl said most of the units run at approximately 100 pounds per hour.
“So, somebody my size would be in the two-hour range,” he noted. “Two hours and 20 minutes by the time the unit is cooling down.”
When Dagen asked what the crematory would look like from the outside, Krowl said Jefferson is a “good neighbor” who has agreed to decorate it.
“He’s got beautiful drawings of a little cottage with a decorated stack,” he noted. “It looks like there’s a gas fireplace in the building and not a human cremation chamber.”
Commission Chairman Jon Crisp said business owners and residents near Jefferson have asked what they will be “subjected to over time.”
While acknowledging that mercury is generally the “No. 1 concern,” Krowl said the only “jeopardy” is if a person is eating fish from which the mercury is ingested.
And Talley said that, prior to cremation, state law requires a funeral director to remove any “device” from the human remains, such as a pacemaker, that could be considered hazardous.
In response to a question by Crisp, Krowl said a crematory generally has no impact on the value of surrounding property.
“I think a lot of the negative publicity that you’ve seen through the years has all been caused by not installing it properly,” he noted. “Our people are going to install it.”
Commission member Chuck Hurt Jr. asked if there is any “odor.”
Krowl said the “unburned hydrocarbons” from the cremation chamber go down into the after-burner chamber at 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit and are “consumed.” Then, air is induced at the base of the stack to reduce that to less than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Goforth said the commission’s recommendation will be presented to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen in the form of a proposed ordinance. If it is passed after a public hearing and two readings, Jefferson can submit an application for a crematory.
“This is not specifically approving it for his facility,” he noted. “We’ve got to get the law changed before we can consider the case.”
By Bill Short