Millersville residents fight crematorium in their neighborhood

With her services becoming increasingly popular, Dorota W. Marshall decided to expand her no-frills cremation business, moving it from a rented facility in Baltimore to a business park in Anne Arundel County where she has begun construction on a new crematorium.

Her new neighbors in Millersville, however, aren't keen on a crematorium in their neighborhood, citing environmental and health concerns, and have filed appeals with the county to stop it from opening. While the facility has already received most of the approvals from the county, it is awaiting a permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment.

On Monday night, the County Council will hold a public hearing, where Marshall and many of the opponents are expected to testify on proposed legislation that would add another level to the county's review of crematorium locations — and could prevent Marshall from operating her facility.

"They're basically trying to kill our business and take away our savings and investment," said Marshall, who owns the five-year-old company, Maryland Cremation Services, and is licensed with the state Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors. She plans to operate the crematorium in Millersville with her husband, Sean Marshall. "We're a really small business and this legislation is targeting us," she said. "It sets a precedent for businesses thinking about relocating in Anne Arundel County, that you may be targeted like us."

John F. Dougherty, an attorney representing the Shipley's Choice Homeowners Association for a development of more than 1,000 homes that is near the proposed site, has filed a challenge with the county Board of Appeals, saying the county "erroneously" granted permits to Marshall.

He said zoning law allows a "funeral establishment" only on major roads, and that the proposed site is only one block long and at a dead end. Dougherty added that state law was amended last year to differentiate between a crematorium and a funeral establishment. A hearing on the appeal is set for August.

Dougherty said residents also have concerns about the smell of burning bodies coming from the proposed site on Headquarters Drive and worry that gases will be emitted in an area with a large cluster of homes, an elementary school and a produce farm.

"It doesn't seem to be very well thought out," said Dougherty. "And it doesn't seem to have gotten any scrutiny at all. We've got these agencies that are there to protect us but we're having to do all the work on our own."

The Department of the Environment, which regulates the environmental impact of the state's 62 crematoriums, is currently reviewing the proposed crematorium's permit application, said Jay Apperson, a spokesman for MDE, adding that the facilities must meet "stringent guidelines" to ensure minimal impact to air quality.

MDE typically sets its emission standards for crematoriums at a hundredth of the level of nationally recognized guidelines, said Apperson. MDE also limits the number of cremations that can take place at a location in a set time period and requires crematoriums to use secondary combustion chambers in order to minimize emission. Those measures and others are intended to limit the release of toxins such as mercury and hydrogen chloride, as well as particulate matter — or soot.

"We always understand that people can be concerned about a proposal and whether it has potential negative effects," said Apperson. "It's our job here at MDE to … apply the law so that we can make the best determination that protects public health and the environment."

Jennifer Whitlock of Shipley's Choice, who estimates she lives three-tenths of a mile from the proposed site, said she is most concerned about the potential effect of the noxious gases on her children and the nearby creek bed, which runs into the Severn River.

"It's not because of an 'ick' factor; it has nothing to do with death and morbidity," said Whitlock, a vice president at a marketing communications firm and the married mother of two sons, 8 and 5. "It has to do with health and safety concerns. This is something any parent would undertake if it were happening in their community."

Cremations are on the rise, according to the Cremation Association of North America, increasing from just 14.9 percent of deaths in 1985, to nearly a third in 2011. More people are choosing cremation for many reasons, according to the association, including the lower price compared to a traditional burial. With that increase has come opposition to the crematoriums. Online news reports show residents speaking out against the businesses coming to their neighborhoods in communities from Utah to West Virginia.

County Councilman Richard Ladd, a Republican whose district includes the proposed crematorium, introduced the legislation that he said is seeking to clarify where crematoriums can be located in the county — not to target any one business. The legislation would require a crematorium located in an area zoned for commercial, which is the zoning at the Millersville site, to get special approval from county officials. When asked if he thought the Millersville location was an appropriate location for a crematorium, he said it was "okay."

"It's not like we don't need them," said Ladd. "We need them. But we need to have some say over where they are."

James J. Doyle, an Annapolis attorney who is representing the Marshalls, said his clients have received all of the proper permits and licenses from the county and state and are only waiting for approval from MDE, which issues air quality permits to crematoriums.

"These are not operations that attract attention or harm neighborhoods or anything along those lines," said Doyle. "They have to meet the air quality regulations that the Maryland Department of the Environment sets and this crematory will do that. With those kinds of permits, there simply are no health hazards whatsoever. I can only characterize people who are worried about that as worrywarts."

Marshall said her crematorium is a "relatively small" operation, completing up to 400 cremations annually since she began in 2008 — though she acknowledges with its growing popularity, business is likely to increase. She charges $875 for cremation services, which she says is about 50 percent less than that charged by funeral homes, which she said typically rely on crematoriums like hers to do the work.

"We did not expect this kind of opposition," said Marshall. "We want to make sure that MDE does all the testing that they need to do to assure that there are no concerns."

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