Sean and Dorota Marshall

Sean and Dorota Marshall have been trying for two and a half years to open the Maryland Cremation Services. (Photo byLloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / July 24, 2013)

After more than two years of legal, zoning and political fights, Dorota Marshall is close to realizing her business dream. Last Wednesday, she received a key permit from the state allowing her to install a crematory machine at Maryland Cremation Services, her Millersville business.

Marshall's business currently uses other facilities — a chapel in Baltimore and a crematory in Beltsville — and she hopes to now bring her services under one roof in a nondescript commercial park.

"I didn't know it was going to be so exciting when I got the permit," Marshall said. "It just lifted the weight off my shoulders."

With the permit in hand, Marshall can install a machine that cremates bodies. Once it's connected and passes county inspections, she'll be able to fully open her doors in Millersville — 21/2 years after she first leased the property. Along the way she and her husband, Sean Marshall, have spent thousands of dollars in legal fees in battles with neighbors.

When they started work on the location, they didn't anticipate that more than 200 people would show up at an informational meeting on their air permit application. That was the start of a series of battles with neighbors, many in the nearby Shipley's Choice and Shipley's Retreat communities.

Neighbors fought the crematory on several fronts. They appealed the building and plumbing permits that the Marshalls obtained to renovate their space in an industrial park. The county's Board of Appeals and a Circuit Court judge upheld the permits.

Based on neighbor concerns, County Councilman Dick Ladd sponsored a bill that sought to add restrictions on when and where crematories can operate. The bill failed. Neighbors also weighed in on the state's air emissions permit, which is required for all cremation machines.

An attorney who represented Shipley's Choice residents in the past did not respond to requests for comment.

The neighbors' concerns were largely focused on the public health and environmental effects of the emissions from the crematory. Neighbors pointed out that Shipley's Choice is filled with children — some with asthma and other medical conditions — and is also home to an elementary school.

The air permit was issued last week by the Maryland Department of the Environment after a review process. The state made a tentative decision to OK the permit last fall, and then dozens of neighbors spoke out at a public hearing and hundreds of people weighed in with comments on the permit.

The state responded to each comment, said Jay Apperson, an MDE spokesman.

"We got a lot of comments. A lot of good questions were asked," he said.

Throughout the debate with neighbors, Dorota Marshall said she was buoyed by support from others in the funeral industry in Maryland, who encouraged her to say the course.

"It took 21/2 years, but they were right," she said.

The Marshalls hope to open the location in the next few months. In addition to installing the cremation machine, they still have finishing touches to put in the small chapel and office. The Marshalls said the goal of the operation is to offer no-frills, low-cost cremations. It will not offer embalming, wakes or large services, they said.

While happy to have the permit in hand, Sean Marshall anticipates more possible challenges. But for now he's glad to not have to deal with legal or zoning issues.

"We've been living with this thing so long, it's part of our psyche," he said.

pwood@baltsun.com