Crematory gets go-ahead; neighbors aren't pleased

Published February 16, 2007

Within 100 feet of the East Ybor historic district, a new crematory will incinerate the bodies of humans and animals at 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit and pump dust high into the air.

Neighbors are not pleased.

"This is a slap in the face to the people that have stayed in Ybor, never left," neighborhood association president Fran Costantino told City Council members last week. "And now suddenly, all these things are coming in while we are trying to make a transition to bring residential people in here."

Owner Rebecca Yebba originally applied for an air pollution permit from the county's Environmental Protection Commission last October to build the Cremation Center of Tampa Bay in Tampa Heights.

But neighbors fired off letters to council members, the mayor and city staff, and eventually, owners sought a new location.

"We looked at the entire city limits. We looked at the county, too," Yebba told the council. "There is probably not a single mile of land or 2-mile radius of land that does not have a house on it. ... We chose a property that is as far away from houses as possible."

That property is at 14th Avenue and N 26th Street, which sits just outside the East Ybor neighborhood but is zoned to allow heavy industrial use. It's surrounded by a chemical pumping station, a car lot that breaks down wrecked vehicles, and a heavy steel fabricating and assembly plant. A garbage and scrap metal truck often drives by on its way to the scrap yard.

Neighbors had hoped that residential uses would one day outnumber industrial, but the addition of the crematory may be a step backward.

The Environmental Protection Commission granted the crematory an air pollution permit Saturday. As long as the machines don't malfunction, the 5 tons of dust emitted per year won't be dangerous, or even visible, chief of air permitting Diana Lee said in December. The permit allows 25 tons of dust.

"Our county is growing by leaps and bounds," she said. "You're going to come into problems where we have a lot of facilities that may end up operating next door to neighborhoods. As long as they meet the rules, all the regulations, they get a state operation permit."

Residents sounded off concerns to City Council members last week, but the officials had no authority to reject the permit. That's the EPC's domain.

The council will write a letter to the EPC to look carefully at the crematory's environmental effects. The city staff will look into requiring special zoning for crematories within 250 feet of residences and report back to the council in March or April. The staff is researching the impact of other crematories on the values of surrounding homes.

"I think people try to take the word 'crematory' and 'cremation' and make it, like, an ugly word," co-owner Carmen Yebba told the council. "But it's really, really not."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 226-3354 or azayas@sptimes.com.