City commissioners said they favored alternatives offered by the Manhattan Urban Area Planning Board at Tuesday’s meeting regarding the ongoing crematorium issue. Ostensibly, the favored alternatives will prevent crematoriums from being located within city limits.
The goal is to distance crematorium emissions from residential neighborhoods.
The first alternative involves investigating opportunities for placing a crematorium in Sunrise Cemetery, while the second involves possibly limiting crematoriums to an industrial district and no closer than 500 feet to a residential property.
Commissioners also noted that adding definitions of mortuaries, funeral homes and crematoriums to zoning regulations and amending industrial districts would probably be necessary.
The issue initially surfaced last year when the owners of the Yorgensen-Meloan-Londeen Funeral Home explored obtaining a building permit to construct a crematorium adjacent to the firm’s site on Poyntz Avenue.
Doug Meloan of Yorgensen-Meloan-Londeen said the funeral home looked into building a crematorium because cremation is becoming a more prevalent arrangement. Meloan said about 53 percent of client families select cremation when planning funerals and traveling to Topeka to use a crematorium often creates logistical problems and drives up expenses.
But the funeral home responded to the public.
“Once we found out our neighbors had concerns with it we decided we were going to withdraw our application for it,” Meloan said.
Meloan and Steve Zilkie, senior planner, said the neighbors’ main concern was mercury emissions as a byproduct of the cremation process. The emissions are released when dental amalgam used for fillings are burned.
The major difficulty city staff ran into while working on the issue was the lack of federal and state regulations on mercury emissions from crematoriums, and the lack of research on the effects of mercury emissions from crematoriums.
“There is no expected change from the EPA,” Zilkie said. “They don’t intend to, at this time, regulate mercury emissions.”
Katie Harkin, a neighborhood resident who spoke during the meeting, said she felt she had valid reservations about the mercury emissions, though.
Meloan said after hearing the concerns, the funeral home decided it did not want to put a crematorium anywhere near a residential area.
Harkin said the funeral home had been very respectful in discussing the issue.
“I would just urge the commission to go the way of the funeral home,” Harkin said. “Please listen to the neighbors.”
Meloan said he would be open to looking at Sunrise Cemetery or an industrial area as options, provided that the industrial area looks dignified.
“I think we might want to explore those at greater length,” Commissioner Wynn Butler said.
Mayor Loren Pepperd disagreed slightly. Pepperd felt an industrial area would be unsuitable for a crematorium based on the turnover rate of businesses. He said a particular industrial area might initially meet Meloan’s aesthetic needs, but there’s no guarantee the area would remain appropriate.
Commissioner Jim Sherow agreed with Meloan, saying neighborhood residents’ concerns came first in his considerations.
Commissioner Rich Jankovich said the idea of Sunrise Cemetery is appealing because of its inherent cohesiveness. However, Jankovich noted the cemetery is on county land, so exploring that option would take cooperation between the city, county and the funeral home.
Butler agreed that much groundwork would need to be done.