Sebastian Council again tapped to decide crematorium’s fate

SEBASTIAN — The Sebastian City Council will get another chance to decide the fate of a larger crematorium at Seawinds Funeral Home on Fleming Street.

Sebastian resident and businessman Damien Gilliams filed an appeal of the city’s planning board’s approval of the crematorium late last week. His appeal is expected to be heard at a council meeting in May. This is the second appeal the crematorium will face and the second chance for the city council to decide how it should be handled. The first time, earlier this year, the council opted to send the proposal back to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Seawinds Funeral Home has tried to expand its crematorium to more than double the size – from 450 square feet to 980 square feet – and add a second furnace. The original crematory was destroyed in November by a fire that started in the furnace and engulfed the structure.

“I’m always in that vicinity,” resident and business owner Damien Gilliams said, explaining why he chose to appeal the expansion. He believes that the crematorium should not be built on the funeral home’s property, regardless of its size.

 Instead, Gilliams argues the crematorium should be relocated to an industrial area.

“Can’t they find a better place for this thing?” Gilliams asked.

After the first appeal, Seawinds officials and representatives from the Elks Lodge next door struck an agreement that would allow for a larger crematorium and address safety concerns the organization had.

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the agreement on April 1.

“I thought it was a done deal,” Elks Lodge President Charles DeLauder said when notified of the filed appeal.

DeLauder said that the Elks will have to discuss what they want to do about the appeal. They might choose to side with Seawinds before the Sebastian City Council to protect the agreement the two groups had hashed out.

Vero Beach attorney Buck Vocelle, who is representing Seawinds Funeral Director and owner James Young, said that he was aware of the appeal but had not yet spoken with Young about the development.

Until then, he said, he would have no comment.

The deal struck between Seawinds and the Elks included changing the crematorium’s layout. The furnaces and chimneys would located on the north side of the building, farther away from the shared property line. The chimneys would also have one-hour fire rated walls and a two-hour firewall between the funeral home and the Elks Lodge.

Both chimneys would be equipped with fire sprinklers that would alert Indian River County Fire Rescue if activated. There would also be a 10-foot wall separating the two properties. That would also be equipped with fire sprinklers wired into the alarm system.

Gilliams said he did not choose to appeal the expansion because of the Elks or the agreement between the organization and the funeral home.

He said that he feels his voice wasn’t heard and he did not receive his full due process during the last hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission. After that hearing, he said he tried to find out from city staff what code rules allow the crematorium on that site.

Gilliams said he didn’t receive a satisfactory explanation.

He said his arguments are based on both city code and concern over the public’s health, welfare and safety.

Gilliams said it was “mismanagement” that caused the crematorium to burn down, something, “we’re taking too lightly.”

He also voiced concern over the smell coming from the crematorium prior to its destruction and what he believes to be a devaluation of his nearby commercial and residential properties.

He said that if the Sebastian City Council chooses to uphold the Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval of the expansion, he is considering taking the matter to the Indian River County Circuit Court for an impartial judge to decide.

“I feel bad for Seawinds,” Gilliams said. “It’s nothing personal.”

This will be the fourth public hearing for project, once it goes before the city council.

Growth Management Director Rebecca Grohall said that despite the number of hearings expected for the proposed expansion, it is not the most contentious planned development to go before Planning and Zoning.

Gilliams’ own proposed development at Paradise Marina went through nine public hearings and ultimately was not approved. Gilliams had planned a hotel on the site.

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