By Bill Short
The Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen passed an ordinance on first reading last week that would list crematories as permitted uses in B-2 zoning districts.
Board members took the action during their July 9 regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Alderman Thomas McGhee and seconded by Alderman Mike Caruthers.
The motion was passed by a 4-3 vote, with Aldermen Larry Dagen, Don Lowry and McGhee dissenting, Frankie Dakin absent and Mayor Terry Jones casting the tie-breaker.
The proposed ordinance, which would amend Title 14 of the Municipal Code, is scheduled for a public hearing and final reading at the board’s Aug. 13 meeting.
Preston Jefferson, owner of Jefferson’s Mortuary at 7788 Church St., is seeking to install a crematory in his business.
Charles Goforth, planning consultant for the city, said neither a funeral home nor a crematory is specifically listed as a permitted use in the current Zoning Ordinance.
So, at its June 18 meeting, the Millington Municipal Planning Commission voted to recommend that it be amended to include them.
Goforth said the commission discussed three options for approving a crematory: (1) only in an Industrial district, (2) in a B-2, General Commercial District, as a special exception permitted by the Board of Zoning Appeals, and (3) anywhere a funeral home is located.
Noting that the commission recommended the second option, Goforth said 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 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.
During discussion shortly before the vote, Goforth said the board was being asked to approve the “procedure” that would allow Jefferson to request a permit to construct a crematory.
“Any of the funeral homes could request it,” he acknowledged. “But they would have to go before the BZA.”
Caruthers, who is a member of the planning commission, said it recommended Option 2 to give residents an opportunity to have their questions answered by “experts” at a public hearing if a crematory was proposed for their neighborhood.
McGhee said the board received a “briefing” that all the “industry standards” were met by the design that Jefferson is proposing.
“This implies that there’s something nefarious going on,” he said, “and that there’s some danger to the community by this facility going in. My understanding is there are no emissions into the atmosphere.”
Alderman Bethany Huffman asked whether the board would be subjecting itself to legal issues, because Millington has “long-standing businesses” that are funeral homes.
City Attorney Gerald Lawson replied that the BZA will review “objective criteria.”
“Since every piece of property is going to have a little bit different circumstance,” he noted, “they’ll have to meet those criteria if it comes through. And if there are special conditions that need to be imposed on one vs. another, the BZA will have to review those.”
Because Jefferson is a “long-standing” member of the community, Dagen said the board should attempt to “accommodate” him.
“He’s not doing something that’s absolutely ridiculous,” he noted. “He wants to enhance his business. And I would like to see us show some type of consideration.”
In response to a question by Alderman Al Bell, Lawson said approval of Option 2 would not remove the BZA from the procedure.
But Goforth noted that Option 3 would allow a funeral home to construct a crematory in a B-2 district with site plan approval by the planning commission.
Because he thinks the commission would have no problem recommending Option 3, Caruthers said he asked Goforth to have it in his “hip pocket” in case the board’s discussion went that way.
Huffman concluded that the board could approve Option 2 on the first reading. Then, it could ask the commission to give “additional consideration” to Option 3 and possibly submit it for the final reading.
By Bill Short