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Largo officials close door on crematory compromise

By LORRI HELFAND
Published October 18, 2006


LARGO — Serenity Gardens Memorial Park offered to downsize a proposed crematory and move it farther away from nearby homes.

But city commissioners closed the door on the compromise at Tuesday night's commission meeting by not taking any action on the proposal.

Commissioners said they were concerned about litigation, but felt strongly that they had made the right decision based on the evidence at the Oct. 3 meeting.

The compromise was offered after commissioners earlier this month voted 5-1 against the original plan, citing concerns about the environment and the welfare of residents.

Ed Armstrong, a lawyer representing Serenity Gardens, said his client was willing to tweak the plan by moving the crematory 600 feet north of its originally proposed site and reducing the crematory by 4,000 square feet.

The original 13,177 square foot crematory facility was proposed for the southeastern end of the cemetery property on Wilcox Road, about 120 feet from nearby homes.

But Serenity Gardens didn't want to change one element of the proposal. The crematory, which would serve nine funeral homes in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, would still have three furnaces.

In the end, commissioners said the compromise wasn't enough to ease their concerns, which included potential health risks to residents.

"The other evening I listened to both sides,'' said Commissioner Rodney Woods. "The people that did not convince me were the experts.''

Commissioner Andy Guyette agreed.

"I felt their expert testimony was not so expert to say the least,'' Guyette said.

A couple of residents have previously said they could be okay with a crematory farther from homes.

But some of the half-dozen residents who spoke Tuesday said a crematory doesn't belong anywhere in the neighborhood.

"We still do not believe that this project is in the best interest of the city," resident Gerald Flanagan told City Commissioners.

Armstrong said his client planned to appeal the city's decision with the courts.

Flanagan also asked commissioners to change city code to remove cemeteries with crematories from allowable institutional uses and allow crematories only in industrial areas. He also asked that city codes require crematories to be at least 1,000 feet from residential areas.

"Don't let these people with big pockets and lawyers influence your decision. If you don't correct this immediately, you're sure to face this problem again," said resident Jack Rivers.

At the end of the meeting, city commissioners planned a work session to discuss changing the codes regarding crematories.

The city's development code was changed in 2000 to allow cemeteries with crematories on institutional sites such as Serenity Gardens. Before that, crematories weren't mentioned specifically in the code, community development director Mike Staffopoulos said.

[Last modified October 18, 2006, 07:06:41]


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