By Jay Cook |
MIDDLETOWN – After nearly two hours of back-and-forth discussion on Monday evening, the township zoning board decided more information was necessary for a crematorium proposal at a 19th century cemetery.
“I’m not as comfortable as I’d like to be,” board chairman James Hinckley said as the April 24 meeting came to a close.
In its proposal to the zoning board, Fair View Cemetery is seeking to construct an 18-foot-tall, 1,128 square foot crematory building along the Route 35 side of the property. The proposed structure would be only 50 feet from the street line, where 200 feet is required in Middletown. No graves exist in the proposed location.
The crematorium would have two chambers, with a single 21-foot-tall stack dedicated for each chamber.
Michael B. Steib, the attorney representing Fair View Cemetery, said the cemetery would be able to perform 10 cremations per day, while operating during normal business hours from 8 or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cremation services would be open to anyone, he added, saying it was not exclusive to Fair View Cemetery. There is no proposed visitation or viewing area proposed on this site.
Fair View Cemetery spans nearly 90 acres and borders Route 35 South, Oak Hill Road, Union Square Shopping Center, Normandy Road and the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line. It has operated since the 1850s.
Many locations were discussed when looking at where to place the new building, said civil engineer James Kennedy.
The first was west of The Orthocenter, located at 80 Oak Hill Road, in an undeveloped area of land behind three properties on Oak Hill Road. The second was the cemetery’s maintenance yard, also along Oak Hill Road, which was not considered due to proximity to residential areas. The last area studied by Fair View was the back corner of the property, which would abut with the tennis courts and pool area at McGuire’s Grove, a multi-family home development.
“We had to find the most viable place,” Kennedy said. “And I think for a number of reasons, this (proposed location) works the best.”
Board members had a number of concerns about how the crematorium would impact Middletown.
Not only would McGuires Grove residents be close to the facility, but the crematorium would be visible for residents of The Village at Chapel Hill, an upscale complex with 150 units. The residential area sits along Route 35 North, across from Union Square Shopping Center.
“Keep in mind there are people living across Route 35 not on ground floor, but on the second and third floor,” said board member Emil Werde. “(The cemetery) is all visual.”
Also concerning were the emissions that would flow from the crematorium.
Putting to rest any concerns about shoddy cremation equipment from the 1970s and 1980s was Tom Krowl, a vice president of marketing for Amril CFS, the manufacturer of the proposed crematorium.
“The equipment is extremely sophisticated now,” he said.
Krowl said his company would conduct annual inspections for the site, while it isn’t required by law in New Jersey.
The crematorium would consume a body at somewhere between 1,700 and 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit at a rate of 150 pounds per hour, he said. Krowl added that the sound coming from the building would be at nearly 60 decibels and is similar to that of an air conditioner.
He also said the stacks should not stick out like a sore thumb on the premises, adding that “it should look like a residential gas fireplace.”
Despite needing the variance from the zoning board, Fair View already has necessary approvals from other entities to move forward. Middletown Health Department said in February that it had no issue with the proposal at that time. The cemetery also obtained a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Air Pollution Control and Preconstruction Permit.
The cemetery is looking to join the growing trend of cremation across the country, said cemetery president Nicholas Barbato.
“We know the business has changed, and we’re trying to meet the marketplace,” he said. “That’s our business, and we have a lot of people coming to us.”
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, an organization that oversees death care services nationally, the rate of cremation is growing at a fast pace. In their Cremation and Burial Report from last year, which identified data from 2015, the percentage of cremation surpassed that of traditional burial – 48.5 percent versus 45.4 percent.
The group anticipates that by 2020, 56 percent of people will utilize cremation services compared to a projected 38 percent for burial.
Steib, the attorney for Fair View, said 40 percent of the remains that come to the cemetery are cremated.
While the room was occupied with lawyers and expert witnesses, only one Middletown resident came to voice her opposition.
Regina Mackiewicz explained why she opposes the project. “A lot of it is the ‘ick factor’ of suddenly now having a crematorium in our area,” she said.
Mackiewicz said what concerned her the most were the contaminants released into the air from the stacks, namely pollutants and the possible smell.
She also brought up the issue with how the crematorium would be open for anyone to use, as the service would not be exclusive for Fair View.
“I don’t want a crematorium,” she said. “I don’t want people from all around coming in and using this.”
Hinckley, the zoning board chairman, said he wants to see more of an “overall summary” of the health regulations associated with crematoriums in New Jersey.
The board unanimously decided to carry the proposal to the May 8 zoning board meeting, when Hinckley said he hopes to take action on a decision.
This story was originally published in the April 27 print edition of The Two River Times.
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