County squashes controversial crematorium plans

Neighbors cited adverse impacts to health and property values in opposing the proposal.

File photo: Marion County Commissioners Jeff Gold and Kathy Bryant [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

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Posted December 9, 2022 | By Morgan Ryan

To the relief of residents of an Ocala neighborhood, Marion County commissioners this week put an end to a funeral home’s plans to build a crematory near their homes.

After hearing from residents, environmental experts and health professionals, the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to deny Ocala Memorial Gardens Inc.’s request for a permit to build the crematory on a 20.41-acre lot of open land at Forest Lawn Funeral Home & Memory Gardens, 5740 S Pine Ave.

Residents have battled the proposal since July when Ocala Memorial Gardens Inc. first asked the county’s Planning & Zoning Commission for permission to construct the crematory in the heart of their community. After numerous delays, the planning commission recommended that the Board of County Commissioners deny the request.

Opponents have cited concerns for their health and property values as well as environmental pollution largely because the proposed crematory would be built only 500 feet from the nearest home.

They also raised questions about Service Corp. International, company that would build the crematory. One of the largest funeral and cremation companies in the United States, SCI has faced several lawsuits for misleading and illegal business practices, which residents said they feared the company would bring to their neighborhood.

SCI representative Kasey Feltner countered the residents’ health concerns by telling the board there is no proof that the crematories they build emit harmful pollutants in the air and that SCI’s technology guarantees that nearby residents will not be disturbed by any smoke, noises or smells.

“Fears and concerns do not amount to evidence,” said Feltner.

Attorney Jimmy Gooding, representing another opponent, noted that SCI was largely self-policed; the Florida government has little to no standards for testing the health and environmental impacts near a crematory.

“We don’t know how much these things generate because we don’t test for it,” said Gooding. “The types of inspections we do aren’t enough to safeguard public health.”

Citizens also expressed concerns for the property value of their homes. Rosemarie Mareno-Jones, a neighborhood resident and real estate agent, said it has been shown that property values plummet when a crematory is built nearby. She cited a 2017 study done by the National Association of Realtors that listed crematoriums as one of the top 10 facilities that impact property values, alongside jails, landfills and train stations.

“I can promise that if I listed a piece of property within two miles of a crematorium, the buyer pool is gonna go right in the ground,” Mareno-Jones said.

She was accompanied by eight of her neighbors, including two health professionals, each of whom presented detailed research supporting their opposition to the crematory.

Commissioner Kathy Bryant motioned for denial, stating that residents of that neighborhood did not choose to be subjected to the operation of a crematorium.

“The people who built their homes there knew the cemetery was there, but you’re talking about a totally different operation when you go into a crematorium,” she said. “I have been able to find evidence that shows that it does decrease property values.”



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