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All common sense went out the window with crematory zoning ruling

Posted 9/13/16

Solomon has left the building! In a triumph of marketing over common sense, clear rules, and sworn testimony, the residents of Spring, Union, Pine, Spruce and Emaus streets do not get the protection they deserve and have a right to expect.

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All common sense went out the window with crematory zoning ruling

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Solomon has left the building! In a triumph of marketing over common sense, clear rules, and sworn testimony, the residents of Spring, Union, Pine, Spruce and Emaus streets do not get the protection they deserve and have a right to expect.

I do sympathize with the Fager-Finkenbinder Group and their possible silent investors, but think they made a faulty business decision based on wishful thinking and unsound advice relating to the Middletown zoning ordinance. In sworn testimony, they made clear their utter disregard for that ordinance. I only wish the zoning hearing board would see fit to enforce it.

On May 26, Travis Finkenbinder appeared to testify that he does not know what specifically will be in the emissions of the planned crematory, but believes they will not harm the neighbors.

 The application to install a crematory, which Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in October 2015, indicated that tons of dangerous fine particulates  would be discharged into the air each year. 

The proposed crematory is unconscionably close to neighboring residences, with multiple close neighbors in multistory houses containing infants and young children, and we are not to worry? This is a triumph of marketing over facts. Travis Finkenbinder and his Middletown partner Mel Fager doubtless take great pride in their no-holds-barred entrepreneurial initiatives.

In my view, this “in your door and window” proposal violates the Middletown zoning ordinance prohibition on incinerators and does not even meet Pennsylvania setback requirements for outdoor furnaces and similar uses. 

While it is true that the emissions from the crematory will be similar to gas furnaces in some respects, with added dioxins and mercury, the volume will be equivalent to a couple hundred gas furnaces operating in a single location.

We believe the proposed crematory egregiously violates the Middletown zoning ordinance in regard to the types, scope and scale of accessory uses, as well as the legal and administrative processes required for changing non-conforming accessory uses. On July 26, zoning hearing board member Donald Graham asserted that the appeals of the appellants had been “untimely,” but did not bother to explain why he rejected their sworn testimony that they were unaware of the proposed crematory prior to mid-January 2016.

Borough Council members Dawn Knull and Diana McGlone at the April 27 zoning hearing board session both stated under oath that they did not become aware of the proposed Fager-Finkenbinder crematory until the second half of January 2016 — the same time period in which the appellants claimed to have learned about the planned crematory.

During the three zoning hearing board sessions on April 27, May 10 and May 26, Travis Finkenbinder, his attorneys and a salesperson from Pittsburgh crematory manufacturer Matthews Inc. said very, very little about the Middletown zoning ordinance, but instead regaled ZHB members and attendees with Fager-Finkenbinder marketing spiels about what great folks they are.

Mr. Finkenbinder and his legal team had a compelling motive to avoid detailed discussion of the zoning ordinance — it contains multiple clear, logical, and cogent reasons why a crematory in the garage behind the Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home at 208 N. Union St. is not permissible.

My late father, James Henry Booser, was a founding partner of the law firm of McNees Wallace Nurick, and after retiring he served Middletown as the unpaid borough solicitor for more than a decade. He and my mom Edith Booser cared deeply about Middletown and faithfully served their community in a variety of ways.

They were thoughtful and considerate neighbors, and made generous concessions to Coble Funeral Home for a non-conforming garage, which Travis Finkenbinder and his attorneys abruptly and without explanation rebaptized as “the smaller funeral home” during the third of three ZHB sessions on May 26.

During the past several years, the uses of this garage (or if you prefer — “smaller funeral home”) have not conformed to the Middletown zoning ordinance, and have disregarded restrictions on accessory buildings in terms of both size and uses, but enforcement has never occurred.

Fager-Finkenbinder’s squalid and poorly conceived crematory project should not be allowed to proceed, and the neighbors must be protected. The contributions my parents, Edith and James Booser (and my grandparents), have made to the welfare and orderly governance of Middletown over many decades should not be defiled by the ambitions of Travis Finkenbinder and Mel Fager.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am the executor for my parents’ estate. Mom died in mid-August 2015, and Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home provided prepaid services to get Mom to the Hershey Medical School for body donation.

Even though almost two months had elapsed since Travis Finkenbinder obtained the crematory zoning permit from Jeffrey Miller on June 24, 2015, no Fager-Finkenbinder employee said a word to me or any member of my family about the proposed crematory, which I first learned about from a newspaper article in October.

During November and December 2015, I sent several emails to Fager-Finkenbinder personnel (including electronic copies to Travis Finkenbinder himself) and senior officials of the Middletown borough, none of whom provided helpful responses to any of my specific questions.

Bad call, Don. Now how about enforcing the existing ordinance? I am pleased that the appellants have challenged the July 26 zoning hearing board decision, and am confident that justice will eventually prevail, no matter how long it may take.

John Booser

Middletown

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