locally owned since 1854

Crematory editorial misses numerous key points: Letter to the Editor

Posted 5/17/17

The following paragraphs contain responses and questions to the Press & Journal’s criticisms of Middletown residents’ opposition to the Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home’s plan to install and …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

Crematory editorial misses numerous key points: Letter to the Editor

Posted

The following paragraphs contain responses and questions to the Press & Journal’s criticisms of Middletown residents’ opposition to the Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home’s plan to install and operate a crematory in the R-2 residential district in downtown Middletown.

Question No. 1: Do P&J editorial writers read their own newspaper?

The first paragraph of the editorial misconstrues the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s “draft plan approval” of FFFH’s application to install a crematory at 208 N. Union St. as a green light for FFFH to proceed with the installation of the crematory “despite the pending case now in Dauphin County Court aimed at stopping its construction.”

If the author(s) of the editorial had read Dan Miller’s April 19 article “DEP moving ahead on crematory,” they would have known that DEP has not given final approval to FFFH’s application to install and operate a crematory. The April 19 article quotes a DEP spokesman as stating, “At this point no final determination has been made” regarding approval of the permit.

Question No. 2: Do the authors of the editorial regard themselves as business consultants for FFFH?

The editorial contains an astonishing editorial statement: “It makes good business sense for [FFFH] to move ahead. After all, in their eyes they have valid zoning approval now. Waiting around to see what happens with the legal battle would put them behind in completing the plans they believe eventually will come to fruition.”

Does it really make “good business sense” for FFFH to disregard the appeal of the June 2015 zoning permit in the courts? Won’t FFFH need to obtain a building permit before installing the crematory? Would the Middletown borough issue a building permit if the zoning permit is under appeal?

Question No. 3: Do the authors of the editorial believe that the Middletown zoning ordinance is erroneous or obsolete, and should be ignored or revoked?

On June 23, 2015, Travis Finkenbinder submitted a zoning application to “convert an existing garage into a crematory” at 208 N. Union St. to the former Middletown zoning officer Jeff Miller, who issued an approval one day later. No component of the borough or any representative of FFFH publicized the existence of the zoning permit during the following six months.

On Oct. 8, 2015, Finkenbinder submitted to the DEP an application to “construct … an air contamination source,” in which he stated his intention to operate the crematory 12 to 24 hours a day, six to seven days a week, and 52 weeks a year. He also answered “no” to the following question on the application: “Have you informed the surrounding community and addressed any concerns prior to submitting the application to the department?”

The zoning ordinance does not allow FFFH to “convert an existing garage into a crematory” at 208 N. Union St. According to the zoning ordinance, funeral homes are only permitted by special exception in the R-2 residential district.

Accessory uses such as crematories are not permitted to special exception uses such as FFFH. For this reason, a crematory would not be a permissible accessory on the funeral home property. In addition, Mr. Finkenbinder has stated he intends to incinerate not only bodies entrusted to his Middletown funeral home, but also bodies imported from his other four funeral homes in the area, none of which has a crematory on the premises.

This would constitute a second principal use of the FFFH property, and thereby violate the zoning ordinance’s prohibition against more than one principal use and one principal building on any property in residential districts. Precisely because the zoning ordinance prohibits such a plan, FFFH spokespersons have gone to ridiculous lengths to try to reinvent the old garage behind 208 N. Union St. as a “smaller funeral home,” or any other thing except a garage.

The editorial also contains puzzling assertions that the legal dispute provoked by FFFH’s plan to install and operate a crematory is less important than vague health and welfare concerns which are referred to as “quality of life.” The claim that “legality” and “quality of life” might be in conflict is patently absurd. At this point in the crematory dispute, the only recourse which Middletown residents have to prevent the planned crematory from damaging or destroying their “quality of life” is legal action to uphold the zoning ordinance and invalidate the erroneous and improper zoning permit which Travis Finkenbinder obtained in June 2015.

Question No. 4: Who do the authors of the editorial think made this mess and stirred up all the commotion?

Before appealing to the Court of Common Pleas, opponents of the crematory spent more than four months trying to obtain assistance from the Zoning Hearing Board. All they got was a one-to-one split decision which technically favored FFFH. One hearing board member said the appeal was “untimely” without explaining why. The other hearing board member said it was “not untimely,” also without explanation.

Neither hearing board member took a position on the substantive points of fact and law which clearly indicate that an “existing garage” may not be converted into a crematory in the R-2 district.

The hearing board’s nondecision left residents with the unpleasant and difficult choice to abandon or continue the struggle against the FFFH crematory in close proximity to their homes and families. If they had not appealed the hearing board non-decision, and refrained from insisting that the zoning ordinance be upheld and vigorously enforced, the residents would have forfeited the protections afforded them by the zoning ordinance, and paved the way for FFFH to cremate bodies on an industrial scale in a densely populated residential district in the middle of downtown Middletown.

Martha and David Black

Middletown

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment