Despite opposition from residents, the New Windsor Planning Commission unanimously approved the site plan for a new crematorium in town.
At its meeting Tuesday night, the commission discussed the modified site plan proposed by Hartzler Funeral Home, located at 310 Church St. The planning commission received the site plan, which proposes adding a crematorium to the existing facility, about two weeks ago.
According to Mark Schultz, chairman of the commission, one of the elements in the decision was deciding whether the crematorium fits in as part of the funeral home. He said the zoning administrator ruled that the crematorium was an accessory use for the existing business, contributing to the commission’s approval.
The Town of New Windsor and the funeral home will now need to enter into a public works agreement to assure the proper installation and connection of the sewer line, as well as other improvements affecting the alley, according to Schultz.
Jeffery Hartzler, funeral director for Hartzler Funeral Home, said he decided to start looking into a crematorium as more people are leading towards cremations.
“It’s trending towards more families who are electing for cremation than traditional burials,” he said. “It’s picked up steam; in 2018, we had 50 cremations completed, in 2019, we had 66, and so far this year, in 2020, we’ve had 28. Now being that we’re still in a rural area, about 35% of our volume is going to cremation but it seems like it’s just steadily going up every year.”
Hartzler Funeral Home has three other locations, in Union Bridge, Woodsboro and Libertytown. Hartler said he doesn’t have a crematorium at any of his other locations.
When it was time for residents to express their opinions, several that they didn’t feel as though the crematorium was right for New Windsor but said it might be better for the Libertytown location. A Change.org petition opposing the crematorium garnered 101 signatures.
In the meeting, held through online video conference, multiple residents raised concerns about how the addition to the property could affect not only their property values but also their health, due to negative affects from emissions as bodies are cremated.
“I don’t think you’re taking that into account that it’s slap dab in the middle of the historic district of homes,” New Windsor resident Kathryn Freed said. “It’s industrializing the area and taking up a huge amount of space; all of that is going to be paved, and that also destroys the value of the property because it destroys the ecosystem, aesthetics and everything having to do with family life.”
According to Hartzler, there are emissions released as bodies are burned, and the Maryland Department of Environment is involved in regulating that.
One resident expressed concerns about increased traffic due to the addition, but Hartzler explained earlier in the meeting that there would be less traffic because he wouldn’t have to transport the bodies of the deceased to be cremated, as they do now. The traffic patterns would also remain the same, according to Hartzler.
Schultz later added that the funeral home could even help reduce traffic.
“If anything, having the funeral home helps with the traffic on Church Street,” he said. “I know you’re residents there, and before the stop sign went in, there was a lot of speeding. Having the occasional funeral is actually helping with controlling traffic, and people that live in that area will testify to that.”
Schultz added via email that residents of Church Street believe that vehicles parked on that street tend to slow speeders who use the road as a “cut through.”
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Planning Commissioner Drew Strine motioned to approve the site plan for the crematorium, and Planning Commissioner Glenn Monroe seconded. The board unanimously voted in favor.