Peters Township Planning Commission voted 5-0 to send a recommendation to the Zoning Hearing Board to deny a special exemption that would allow for a crematory at 3287 Washington Road.
More than 100 residents turned out Thursday night to voice their opposition to the proposed crematory and funeral home at the former La-Z-Boy site along Route 19. Commission Chairman Jeff Mills acknowledged this as a “serious issue to the community.”
The commission also voted 5-0 on a motion to deny a zoning ordinance amendment that would allow crematories to operate as an accessory use to a funeral home in C-1 and C-2 zoning districts. Current zoning allows for funeral homes to operate, but does not include provisions for the operation of a crematory.
Audia Group Investments, LLC brought the requests before the commission on behalf of applicant Danielle Belusko, a licensed funeral director with 20 years of experience. Belusko is moving to the township and plans to open a full-service funeral home that includes on-site cremation.
Belusko addressed the commission and the residents about her interest in providing, what she calls, a valuable service to the residents of Peters Township.
“What I’m going to bring to this township is very positive,” said Belusko. The married mother of three young children said she would not propose any business that would put her children or any other township children in harm’s way.
She spoke on the added service on-site cremation offers in that loved ones are not transported to a secondary location for cremation. Also, with many people choosing both a traditional viewing and cremation, it’s beneficial for a funeral home to offer both services. Nearly 40 percent of all deaths in the U.S. result in cremation over traditional burial, and that number is expected to grow.
Resident Sam Hazo spoke on behalf of hundreds of residents who are strongly opposed to having a crematory anywhere in the township, especially near residential areas. Citing a study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University as well as other statistics, Hazo brought up numerous concerns of having a crematory in the township, including decreasing property values near the site, noise from the furnace, property aesthetics and potential air quality issues.
However, the main concern seemed to be the possibility of mercury exposure. Mercury can be released into the air when cremation is performed on a body with mercury amalgam dental fillings.
The less contentious issue of granting a parking/buffer variance for the site was recommended for approval, though Chairman Mills dissented. The two-story, 26,000-square-foot building was built in 1968 and currently has 40 parking spaces. The building has an inherent hardship for parking due to the size of the building and the lot.
Belusko is proposing to use only 10,190 square feet of the facility: 7,500 square feet for general funeral home use and 2,690 for storage and garages. A formula that generates the number of required parking spaces calls for 44 spaces, however Belusko is proposing 63 if the variances are granted.
The Zoning Hearing Board will discuss the special exemption request for a crematory as well as the parking/buffer variances at its meeting Tuesday, March 15. Residents are invited to attend this meeting.
Even if the plan for a crematory at the 3287 Washington Road site is ultimately rejected, Belusko says she will still move forward with her plan to open a funeral home.