2010 Jan. 18: VT Brattleboro: Neighbors ask board to close crematory
BRATTLEBORO — Neighbors of the Ker-Westerlund & Fleming Funeral Home have petitioned the town asking that the facility’s crematorium not be allowed to resume operation.
On Tuesday night, the Brattleboro Selectboard will review the petition, but it may have no legal authority to keep it from being put back into service.
"There aren’t any zoning issues," said Brian Bannon, the town’s zoning administrator.
The zoning code allows for funeral homes in the multiple residential district, he said, but doesn’t mention crematoriums at all.
"It’s silent on that question," said Bannon, which means it is within Ker-Westerlund & Fleming’s right to operate it.
On Sept. 11, 2009, heat from the crematorium’s chimney started a fire in the building, seriously damaging part of the funeral home and an apartment on its second floor.
A fire investigation revealed the flue was not properly insulated at the point it passed through the ceiling of the first floor. Over a period of several years, wood surrounding the chimney had dried out, eventually catching fire.
Even if the Planning Commission was to recommend a change in the zoning ordinance, said Town Manager Barbara Sondag, Ker-Westerlund & Fleming would still be able to run its crematorium because it would have been in operation prior to the rewrite.
"It’s not the best place to have it, however it’s currently allowed," she said. "I can
appreciate the funeral home wanting to offer that service and how it’s important to their ability to stay in business." Hopefully, they can work something out so the residents in that area can maintain their quality of life, she said.
More than 100 people in the neighborhood have signed the petition, said Billy Wallace, who has lived next door to the funeral home for four years.
Neighbors are concerned about traffic at the facility and the black smoke that "constantly comes out of it," he said.
"It has not been properly maintained or run correctly," said Wallace, causing soot and odors to come from the pipe.
Even if the facility were to fix the problem, he said, "I don’t want it there no matter what."
Will Gembrowski, who lives behind the funeral home, said the crematorium belongs in a commercial area, not in a residential part of town.
"The funeral home is fine," he said. "They do a genuinely good job of keeping things policed up. But the crematorium doesn’t belong there."
From early morning to late night, there are odors, smoke and noises coming from the building, he said.
"It’s not very pleasant," said Gembrowski, especially in the summertime when neighbors like to keep their windows open.
Matthew Waller, the funeral home’s manager, admitted that the chimney occasionally emits "puffs of smoke."
"That’s within normal operating parameters," he said.
He said an odor investigation determined that the neighbors were smelling a nearby coffee roaster, and not the crematorium.
More than one neighbor alleged that ash and soot come out of the chimney on a regular basis.
Waller said the stack does emit some particulates but "on a molecular level."
Three parts per million to be exact, he said.
"It’s minuscule," said Waller. "Anything over that trips an alarm."
Waller said the funeral home had offered to move the crematorium to the other side of the building, which overlooks the High Grove Parking Lot, to cut down on annoyances to the neighbors.
Ker-Westerlund & Fleming invested a tidy sum of money to draw up plans for the move, said Waller.
"But we were told it would be fought," he said. "So we dropped it."
After receiving noise complaints several years ago, the funeral home installed a baffle system in response. Now the noise coming from the building measures between 55 and 60 decibels, which is below the 80 decibels of traffic passing on Western Avenue, said Waller.
Brattleboro Fire Chief Michael Bucossi said his department has responded to the site 11 times since in the past two years.
"Those are the ones that we have documented," he said.
According to the fire log, said Bucossi, some of the calls were to investigate smoke while others followed resident complaints.
The state is working with the funeral home to insure the building is rebuilt according to code, said Brian Johnson, an assistant fire marshall with the Vermont Division of Fire Safety.
"We will make sure that it is installed per manufacturer requirements and that the proper clearances are in place," he said.
The crematorium should be back up and running in the next few weeks, said Waller. It services six nearby funeral homes and cremates up to 300 bodies a year.
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.