Since Bart Williams, owner of Macedonia Memorial Park, first filed the request to rezone his land on East Cherokee Drive to build the crematorium, residents have expressed strong concerns that the development would emit harmful levels of pollutants, like mercury, and pose a significant risk to public health.
Those in opposition to the plan were further spurred to protest earlier this month when the Cherokee County Planning Commission voted to give its approval 5-4 to Williams’ request, sending it to the Board of Commissioners for final approval.
Since the recommendation for approval, commissioners have reported being flooded with hundreds of emails from residents expressing concern about the development.
Williams, who has strongly denied that his development would pose a risk to public health, has also spoken with the commissioners.
Commissioner Harry Johnston, who represents Post 1 where the crematorium would have been located, said during the meeting Tuesday that the “most compelling” reason to deny Williams’ request was the fact that the property does not require rezoning for it to be a beneficial site economically.
Johnston also cited the potential health risks of the development.
“We’ve been presented arguments that say there is a significant health risk,” Johnston said. “We’ve also been presented with evidence to the contrary, saying there is not.”
But Johnston said, it may be best to “err on the side of caution,”especially when considering the proposed crematorium’s proximity to an elementary school across the street
Johnston also added that he had spoken with the state agency which issues licenses for crematory operations, and “they do not intend to issue a license,” because of the distance of the proposed cite from homes nearby.
Commissioner Brian Poole also spoke on the case.
“This has really weighed pretty heavy on me,” Poole said.
Poole said because he is in the funeral home industry, it was difficult for him to decide whether or not he should take part in the vote, but he consulted County Attorney Angela Davis to make the decision.
Commissioner Jason A. Nelms said after the meeting that his reasons for voting against Williams’ request were mostly relating to the zoning part of the argument, primarily the fact that it could be consider a “spot-zoning” case with conflicting classifications on the same site.
“I think we’ve got a responsibility to our children,” Nelms said, “to not spot-zone and manage the county’s resources wisely.”
Commission Raymond Gunnin also said following the meeting that his issues with the case were mostly based on zoning, but that he agreed that the county would be best served with caution in case it were to turn out that residents were correct about the health risks.
“I didn’t want something to happen 20 years from now and I was a part of it,” he said. “I believe somebody has the right to make as much money as they can with their property, but we don’t infringe on other people’s right to do it.”
Williams said after the meeting Tuesday night that he was disappointed in the board’s decision, but that the issue wasn’t exactly over.
“It’s not dying because of the vote tonight,” Williams said. “I’m not suggesting that I’m going to file a lawsuit,” though he will look into what recourse he has.
One day, Williams said, there “will be a crematorium in Cherokee” and he hopes to be the one to own it.
Williams added that he was disappointed with the commissioners who were open prior to the meeting about how they planned to vote.
“I think that was very inappropriate,” he said.