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No crematory in Middletown; funeral home gets $25,000 in settlement; money will be donated

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 11/21/17

One of the most divisive issues in recent Middletown history has come to an end, as plans to build a crematory at Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home at 208 N. Union St., have been …

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No crematory in Middletown; funeral home gets $25,000 in settlement; money will be donated

A crematory will not be built at Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home on North Union Street in Middletown.
A crematory will not be built at Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home on North Union Street in Middletown.
staff photo by jason maddux
Posted

One of the most divisive issues in recent Middletown history has come to an end, as plans to build a crematory at Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home at 208 N. Union St., have been abandoned.

Fager-Finkenbinder has agreed not to locate the crematory here, in exchange for a $25,000 payment that has been received from opponents to the crematory as part of a settlement that has been reached in Dauphin County Court, Fager-Finkenbinder President/Owner Travis Finkenbinder told the Press & Journal on Tuesday, Nov. 21.

Finkenbinder said he is donating the entire $25,000 received from the opponents to charities.

A restriction will be placed on the deed of the funeral home so that a crematory can never be built at the 208 N. Union St. property. Fager-Finkenbinder has no plans to leave the funeral home, Finkenbinder said, citing the significant investment that he has made in the property since acquiring it.

Finkenbinder still intends to build a crematory to service the Middletown funeral home as well as three other funeral homes that Finkenbinder has — in Elizabethtown, Palmyra and Marietta. However, it will be built at one of those three sites and not anywhere in Middletown, Finkenbinder said.

He agreed to the settlement, he said, because “I need to have the crematory now, and I couldn’t invest the time and resources in seeing us challenged at every step along the way.”

“If we looked at where this was going in terms of the time frame and the overall resources that it would take to get to the end point, we simply can’t wait,” he added. “Our businesses are growing at rates that are beyond what we had even expected here in Middletown.”

Concerns from neighbors

Opposition to the crematory surfaced among a number of residents living in the neighborhood surrounding the funeral home, shortly after Finkenbinder’s plans to build the crematory became public in the fall of 2015.

Among those leading the opposition were David and Marti Black, who live next door to the funeral home.

The Blacks were among the most vocal in contending that air emissions from the crematory would pose a danger to the neighborhood and elsewhere in Middletown, depending upon the prevailing winds.

The Blacks and the other opponents also had expressed alarm over plans expressed by Finkenbinder in documents and testimony that the crematory would not only handle bodies from the funeral home in Middletown, but bodies from the chain’s three other funeral homes as well.

Finkenbinder responded by saying that the crematory proposed for the Middletown funeral home was the same as others that the state Department of Environmental Protection had approved for use in other locations throughout Dauphin County and elsewhere in Pennsylvania.

“We are satisfied with this settlement,” David Black told the Press & Journal on Tuesday afternoon. “It is our opinion that this covenant will protect the town and our neighborhood.”

“We hope that this puts an end to this,” Black said. “We wish Travis Finkenbinder the best of luck in his future use of the funeral home. The Booser and Black family has always had a very good relationship with that funeral home up until the crematory controversy emerged, and we wish him well.”

Donations to community

As for the $25,000, Finkenbinder said he would deliver the checks on Tuesday to Citizens Fire Company in Palmyra, Middletown Volunteer Fire Department, Middletown Public Library, the Middletown Moose Family Center, American Legion Post 594, and VFW Post 1620. The donations also include $2,500 to Kuppy’s Diner to support the 2018 Cruise-In.

None of the parties know ahead of time they are receiving the donations, Finkenbinder told the Press & Journal. 

“We have had such support from this community, overwhelming support, that it’s my way of giving back,” Finkenbinder said. “I believe that the support that we were shown was out of love, and we simply want to give back to the community.”

Court battle

In July 2016, the Middletown zoning hearing board in a 1-1 vote upheld a June determination by former borough zoning officer Jeff Miller that the crematory was an allowed use at the funeral home on Union Street.

A month later, opponents to the crematory appealed the zoning board’s decision to Dauphin County Court, in an effort to overturn Miller’s determination.

The Blacks were not among the listed appellants in the case. However, they have acknowledged providing ongoing support to the effort, including financial assistance to cover the appellants’ legal bills.

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