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Sebastian council splits over larger crematorium

SEBASTIAN – Seawinds Funeral Home’s plans for an expanded crematory on its property next door to the Sebastian Elks Lodge remains in limbo following nearly three hours of debate and discussion amongst members of the Sebastian City Council.

Three of the five council members voted to uphold the Elks Lodge’s appeal challenging the larger crematorium. Four votes were needed. Instead, the same three – Mayor Richard Gillmor, Andrea Coy and Eugene Wolff – voted to send Seawinds’ application back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for further review.

“We didn’t win, we didn’t lose,” said Elks Lodge president Charles DeLauder after the 3-2 vote.

However, whether or not Seawinds will take its application to the commission remains to be seen. The funeral home could decide instead to rebuild on the original, smaller site plan and scrap plans for expansion.

Growth Management Director Rebecca Grohall told the council that the department did not need to send the funeral home’s request to Planning and Zoning, that the request could have been handled administratively.

“We knew this was going to be a hot-button issue,” she said, explaining why the department did send the expansion before the commission.

By the end of the meeting, Coy suggested the council send the request back to review additional conditions for approval, including the height of a possible wall to separate and buffer the Elks Lodge from the crematorium.

Seawinds’ attorney, Buck Vocelle, counter-offered, telling the council that Seawinds would agree to building a 10-foot tall solid wall between the two properties and installing a fire alarm system connected to phone lines to quickly notify fire officials of potential fire.

“Obviously, we don’t want to go back to P&Z,” Vocelle said.

Despite the voluntary offer of the wall and fire alarm, Coy, Gillmor and Wolff voted to send the expansion request to the commission.

Both Vice Mayor Jim Hill and Councilman Don Wright voted against the measure.

Wright said that Seawinds Funeral Home’s offer was “neighborly” and would enhance protection for the Elks and the crematorium and doubted much more could be gained by sending it back to the commission.

“We have spent hours reviewing this,” Wright said. “I believe that we have covered all the issues as best we possibly can.”

Hill told the council that he had not heard any evidence during the discussion that lead him to believe that the expansion would not meet the city’s various codes and requirements. Therefore, he could not support sending the project back for more review.

The crematorium at Seawinds Funeral Home on Fleming Street burned down in November 2009 while in use.

Members of the Elks Lodge have contended that the crematorium was too close to the property line and posed a risk to the lodge building. They have also taken issue with the odor and smoke coming from the crematorium, which was not fully addressed during the council’s hearing.

If Seawinds decides to proceed with its expansion plans, it will have to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission. That meeting has not yet been scheduled.

However, if Seawinds decides to forgo the expansion and rebuild what it lost in the fire, the company needs only to apply for and receive a building permit to proceed.

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