Petition for Clarksville funeral home to go before Board of Appeals

A little more than a year ago, Jay Donaldson's plans to build a 25,390-square-foot funeral home on slightly more than three acres of residential land off Route 108 in Clarksville was met with vocal opposition from members of a neighboring church and a rejection from the county hearing examiner.

Donaldson, who already operates funeral homes in Laurel and Odenton, has since modified his plans for the proposed funeral home — reducing its size to 17,049 square feet, adding parking spaces and enhancing the landscape buffering, among other changes.

On Thursday, Jan. 5, Donaldson and his attorney Sang Oh will present the revised petition to the Board of Appeals in an effort to get the special zoning exception he needs to build the funeral home.

"I just hope that they recognize all the changes we made to accommodate all the concerns of our neighbors," Donaldson said.

Donaldson deferred comment on the details of the new proposal to Oh.

"We made very substantial modifications to address all of the concerns that were expressed by the hearing examiner and the surrounding community," Oh said.

Howard County hearing examiner Michele LeFaivre rejected Donaldson's original petition because of the adverse affect the proposed funeral home would have on neighboring properties, which include St. Louis Catholic Church and Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.

"The facts in this case clearly establish the adverse effects (the funeral home would create) at the proposed location are unique and different, to the extent they are sufficient to warrant denial," LeFaivre said in her 65-page decision dated Nov. 29, 2010.

LeFaivre said she had to consider the impact a funeral home would have "at its full capacity — at its most intense use — with all three visitation rooms and a funeral service in operation."

She pointed out that when the funeral home would be operating at full capacity, cars parked off-site would bleed "into the community as a function of the use's intensity."

Opponents at the time had said the 66 proposed parking spaces for the site would be inadequate. After the hearing examiner issued her decision, the County Council passed legislation strengthening the requirements for funeral home parking.

Donaldson's new proposal includes 100 parking spaces — two more than the updated zoning law requires.

Traffic concerns persist

The primary opponent in the original case was St. Louis Catholic Church, represented by attorney William Erskine. The new plan, Erskine said, addresses "a significant number of concerns" the church had.

"They decreased the size (of the funeral home) while increasing the parking, … greatly increased the setback and buffering between the funeral home and the (church) rectory … (and) produced a very pleasing lighting plan that has absolutely zero light trespass across the property line," he said.

But Erskine said the church is still concerned about traffic. Though the church understands Donaldson does not have the ability to resolve all potential traffic issues, Erskine said the church feels the proposed deceleration lane is not long enough and should be expanded to connect with the existing acceleration lane St. Louis has next to its exit.

In her decision to reject the original plan, LeFaivre said she was not persuaded the 54-foot long deceleration lane the plan depicted "is long and wide enough to provide space for vehicles to slow down and enter the site from northbound Route 108 without exacerbating the already adverse traffic hazards in the area."

Oh said the new plan will have a deceleration lane at least 150-foot long, which he said was the minimum State Highway Administration rules specify would be needed in this case.

But Erskine said 150 feet is not long enough. "We are just of the opinion that for safety reasons it ought to be connected" to the church's acceleration lane.

It would only take about a 250-foot deceleration lane to make the connection, Erskine said. To do so would require moving a telephone pole, he said, which could cost $100,000. "It's not just moving the pole; it's moving the wires that are on top."

Though the church does not plan to mount as strenuous an opposition as it did before, Erskine said, they will petition the Board of Appeals to make a longer deceleration lane a condition of approval.

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