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City, Residents Differ On Crematory Record

INDEPENDENCE -- City officials and residents objecting to the installation of a crematory in their neighborhood are disputing what should and shouldn't be included in the written record of a case file

INDEPENDENCE -- City officials and residents objecting to the installation of a crematory in their neighborhood are disputing what should and shouldn't be included in the written record of a case filed with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

Five petitioners filed a claim this summer that Independence violated zoning laws when it allowed the owners of Farnstrom Mortuary to place a crematory in their funeral business off Monmouth Street in July, and that the city offered no prior notice of the operation.

Among the disputed items is a building permit in which the city approved in 1999 a mortuary addition which would eventually house the crematory.

LUBA will have 60 days to decide whether to accept the record. And after parties file review and response briefs, the state may set an oral hearing before the end of the year, an agency spokeswoman said.

Co-owner Ben Farnstrom said, per the advice of his attorney, he would not intervene as a party in the matter. He has said that he would abide by the final outcome of the appeal process, and, if necessary move the crematory to his Portland mortuary.

He also noted that the crematory has not been used since July.

"We're not going to operate until we know what LUBA's ruling is," he said. "It's just out of respect for the community."

Copies of building permit applications, minutes of a historic building commission and a land-use compatibility statement from the Department of Environmental Quality were items included in a record furnished by the city.

In a brief, Independence City Attorney Rich Rodeman said the case "was a source of confusion to the city," in that the neighbors were objecting to a building permit filed about seven years ago.

An April 1999 building permit details the addition, and minutes from a meeting show that the city's Historic Preservation Commission signed off on the project.

"Please recall that the building official and the historic commission specifically approved the remodeling of a a garage with a gas jet and supersized, concrete-insulated walls which were necessary for the crematory," Rodeman wrote.

He further wrote that it was DEQ's decision to approve the crematory in 2006. Another document, a copy of a 2006 DEQ application by the mortuary owners to build a crematory, asks if the facility complies with local laws.

City Manager Greg Ellis marked "yes" and wrote it was a permitted use and that no local review or planning approval was required.

Wallace Lien, a Salem attorney representing the petitioners, in a written reply in the case file, said the city "did not, could not and would not" tell the petitioners the details of that decision when residents saw the crematory being installed in July, saying only that it was "a done deal."

The aforementioned 1999 permit and building commission minutes make no mention of a crematory, and therefore don't belong in the official record, Lien wrote in asking for the materials to be removed.

(The Itemizer-Observer also did not find any mention of a gas jet or concrete walls in the documents.)

Lien also wrote that the city's approval on the DEQ form was in error.

A crematory is allowed only in a commercial retail zone, and though Farnstrom has been grandfathered into a residential zone, city law states non-conforming uses may not be enlarged or extended beyond the scope of the existing activity, Lien wrote.

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