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In a surprising result, winners abound in crematory agreement: Editorial

Posted 11/29/17

Well, we didn’t see that coming.

Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home’s plans to build a crematory on its property at 208 N. Union St. have been scrapped, despite several years of attempts …

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In a surprising result, winners abound in crematory agreement: Editorial

Posted

Well, we didn’t see that coming.

Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home’s plans to build a crematory on its property at 208 N. Union St. have been scrapped, despite several years of attempts to get it done and legal battles over whether zoning issues were resolved properly.

It was one of the most hotly contested issues in the borough in recent years, as residents around the site of the proposed crematory feared a drop in property values and potentially damaging air quality changes.

While we questioned in a previous editorial whether its construction would really be that bad of a thing for the borough, the outcome reached last week probably is best for all involved.

We knew that a deal was in the works. We reported in September on court documents that said “a proposed settlement agreement is nearing finalization.”

We figured that meant some type of compromise.

Instead, Fager-Finkenbinder relented.

It shows that a group of dedicated citizens can come together and get something done, although there are unusual circumstances in this case. Rarely is such a project planned in the heart of a city or borough, with a dense population and backers with the means to bankroll lawyers to fight it. In this case, the business was not a large international company but a small local one, which probably made the fight against it easier. Also, this case involved potential health issues. Most proposed developments do not.

Compare that, for example, to the recent battle over the building of a UPS hub in Lower Swatara Township. That fight was in a sparsely populated area and involved an international company. No legal action was taken in an attempt to stop it. The township eventually approved a zoning change.

Fager-Finkenbinder agreed not to locate the crematory here — now and in perpetuity — 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. Finkenbinder said he is donating the entire $25,000 received from the opponents to charities — $5,000 to Citizens Fire Company in Palmyra, $5,000 to the Middletown Volunteer Fire Department, $5,000 to the Middletown Public Library, $2,500 to the Middletown Moose Family Center, $2,500 to American Legion Post 594, and $2,500 to VFW Post 1620. The donations also include $2,500 to Kuppy’s Diner to support the 2018 Cruise-In.

The agreement is certainly a win for these groups, since money basically fell out of the sky and into their hands.

President/owner Travis Finkenbinder 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.”

He 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.

In other words, he made a business decision. Plus, he received money from crematory opponents and used that to create a little goodwill in a fractious situation.

We are happy to see this out of the courts. It was a complicated case that involved whether opponents filed their appeal of the permit with the Middletown Zoning Hearing Board in time, or if they filed it too late. One possibility was that the Dauphin County judge in the case could send — or in court parlance, “remand” — the crematory case back to the Middletown Zoning Hearing Board for a rehearing. While the members of that board know what they are signing up for when it comes to difficult cases, we are glad they won’t be put in the position of resolving this case.

Just about everyone outside of Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home and the people who coughed up $25,000 came out a winner in this case — including the local organizations who had nothing to do with the fight but received funds. And while $25,000 seems like a lot, thousands already were spent to pay for lawyers representing the residents.

This was a divisive battle. We are glad the time is here to move on from it.

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