Testimony ends for crematory zoning hearing
The Middletown Zoning Hearing Board will issue a decision by August on the appeal of a zoning permit that would allow Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home to operate a crematory at their location at 208 N. Union St., under a schedule Solicitor David Wion …
Testimony ends for crematory zoning hearing
The Middletown Zoning Hearing Board will issue a decision by August on the appeal of a zoning permit that would allow Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home to operate a crematory at their location at 208 N. Union St., under a schedule Solicitor David Wion announced following the conclusion of oral testimony on Thursday, May 26.
The appellants, a group of five property owners who are appealing a decision reached in June 2015 by former borough zoning officer Jeff Miller, will have until June 20 to submit written findings of fact and conclusions of law from the case. Representatives of the funeral home will then respond with their own findings of fact and conclusions of law, and the appellants will have the opportunity to respond to that by July 6, Wion said.
The zoning board – Chairman Jack Still and member Don Graham – will then meet in an executive session to review and deliberate the case. They will vote on the matter during a public meeting, the date of which was not announced, with a written determination to follow by Aug. 16.
The third night of the hearing began with the testimony of Travis Finkenbinder, who owns and oversees the company that controls five local funeral homes, which added the Middletown property, formerly Coble-Reber Funeral Home, in April 2015.
Finkenbinder described photos that provided a tour of the Middletown funeral home, including the renovated main building, where services are held, and the smaller building behind it where he plans to add the crematory, specifically the retort itself and a refrigeration unit. This building, described as a garage during the hearing, includes the business offices of the funeral home, a small sitting area and the selection and arrangement room, where the funeral director meets with survivors to explain services that are available and plan for a memorial and the disposition of remains.
“We do provide cremation services,” he said. “We currently use a third party.”
“Not having a crematory at one of our locations puts us at a disadvantage,” Finkenbinder said. For many, it is preferable to know that deceased person never leaves the funeral home, he said. “The chain of custody is critically important to the families,” he said.
He stressed the value in being able to "look in their eyes and say, 'Your mom is going to be with us the entire time.' "
Based on the company's current volume, Finkenbinder estimated two to four cremations per week would occur at the Middletown funeral home. He denied that he plans to accept bodies for cremation from other funeral homes.
Several additional people were allowed to testify about their objections to the crematory, despite objections by Finkenbinder's attorneys. They argued that there is a 30-day limit to filing a zoning appeal, and that additional people could not appeal because the deadline had passed.
“This is not something that needs to happen in a residential neighborhood,” said David Crow, who testified. “It's an industrial process.”
During his testimony, Finkenbinder said Hoover Funeral Home in Linglestown and Hetrick Bitner Funeral Home in Harrisburg operate crematories in residential areas.
Other residents denied Finkenbinder's “chain of custody” arguments.
David Lenker said he has not been convinced of the safety of a crematory for neighbors, and he lives next to the Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home. “You hold our lives in your hand,” he told the board. If the crematory is permitted, Lenker said Middletown will experience an “exodus of this town of biblical proportions.”
Melvin Fager, a partner in the Middletown funeral home, bemoaned the appellants' concerns about property values and threats to people's health and the way the crematory opponents are “trying to scare people.” Because of the signs that have been posted around town, and brought into the hearing room by opponents, "as a community, we look like fools,'' Fager said.
About 40 people packed the Middletown Borough Council chambers for the hearing on May 26, which spanned three hours of testimony and at least 20 minutes of board solicitor Wion quietly discussing the next steps of the process with zoning board members and the attorneys for the parties and the borough.