Story and photo by Jay Cook
MIDDLETOWN – One of the largest non-sectarian cemeteries in the state is looking to expand into the cremation business.
Fair View Cemetery, located on a nearly 90-acre plot of land bordered by Route 35 South, Oak Hill Road and the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line, has a proposal before the Middletown Zoning Board of Adjustment for a 1,128-square-foot human crematorium to be sited on an empty parcel along the Route 35 highway.
Board approval is necessary because the project requires a site variance. Under current code, the exterior walls of a permitted crematory must be set back 200 feet from either the nearest property line or nearest street line. This proposal is only 50 feet away from the Route 35 South roadway.
According to a project description given to the township zoning board on Sept. 27, 2016, the 24-foot by 47-foot building will be a two-chamber human crematory.
Each chamber would have its own 21-foot-tall, single-stack round chimney, which would be 20 inches in diameter.
Also included in the plan is an office, restroom, receiving area and refrigeration unit. Outside, an 18-foot-wide driveway plus space for a generator and a pad are proposed.
While the zoning board has final say, the proposed crematorium is considered a permitted conditional use for the zoned area of Fair View Cemetery, according to Middletown Township planning and development regulations.
Paramount to approval of the crematory is consent for an air permit from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). On June 19, 2014, Fair View Cemetery successfully obtained an Air Pollution Control and Preconstruction Permit.
The permit details the applicable amount of discharge from the crematory. According to the permit, the maximum burn rate of the incinerator must not be more than 150 pounds per hour. The total hours of operation for the crematory are 4,160 hours per year.
The Middletown Health Department has also weighed in. Director Richard DeBenedetto said in February that the department “does not have any issues with the minor site plan at this time,” according to township documents.
Fair View Cemetery opened in 1855, according to superintendent William Rockafellow. The cemetery has entrances on Route 35, as well as Oak Hill Road, across from Johnny Court.
With tens of mausoleums and thousands of graves throughout the property, Fair View Cemetery has an expansive paved roadway system connecting it end to end. The cemetery is relatively quiet, considering the acreage and how set back the interior plots are.
“Besides the police station, we’re probably one of the oldest establishments in Middletown,” Rockafellow said.
Fair View Cemetery is one of 400 non-sectarian cemeteries in New Jersey that are regulated and licensed by the New Jersey Cemetery Board (NJCB), a 10-member board that comes under the umbrella of the state Department of Community Affairs.
In 2009, Michael B. Steib, the attorney representing Fair View Cemetery, wrote to the NJCB board of directors advising that the cemetery was expressing interest in constructing a crematorium on site.
According to state statute, approval from the NJCB is necessary to build a crematorium. Yet in this case, the board of directors said that approval from the body was not necessary, as a crematory is a permitted use for a cemetery, but does require approval from the DCA, along with DEP approval.
Steib could not be reached for comment on the proposal, and Rockafellow declined further comment on the project.
Surrounding Fair View Cemetery is McGuires Grove, an apartment complex with nearly 400 units, and the Union Square Mall, located north of the property. The Whole Foods shopping plaza is located east of the property across Route 35.
Other residential areas near the cemetery are along the Oak Hill Road section, where an entrance and exit is across from Southall Lane.
Crematoriums have been controversial in recent years within the Two River area. In 2014, Woodbine Cemetery in Oceanport had residents upset over the crematorium proposal on its approximately 30-acre site, with Oceanport elected officials at the time vowing to mount a legal fight against the plan.
At that time, Woodbine Cemetery still had to apply for the NJDEP’s air pollution permit. Ultimately, no proposal for a crematorium was passed on to the NJCB, nor was a permit obtained from the NJDEP.
That is where the Woodbine proposal and the Fair View project differ – Fair View already has its necessary paper work.
Middletown Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger said that since the Fair View Cemetery crematorium is now before the zoning board, he was not able to publicly comment. Although he did urge the public to come out and voice their opinions to the zoning board at the April hearing.
“It’s important for the zoning board to get input from the residents,” Scharfenberger said. “They’re going to be the ones who are going to be the most affected by whatever happens there.”
The public hearing on the crematorium will be held at the next scheduled zoning board meeting, April 24 at 7 p.m. at 3 Penelope Lane.
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