SEBASTIAN – Construction has gotten started on a newer, larger crematorium at the Seawinds Funeral Home on Fleming Street. The work began after time ran out on filing a court appeal of the Sebastian City Council’s approval for the crematorium.
“It was a tough decision,” Sebastian resident and businessman Damien Gilliams said in choosing not to file a court appeal. The crematorium had gone through two city-level appeals, one brought by Gilliams, another by the funeral home’s next-door neighbor, the Elks Lodge.
When the Sebastian City Council denied Gilliams’ appeal in May, Gilliams and his attorney considered challenging the crematory’s approval in court.
Seawinds Funeral Home’s single-furnace, 450-square-foot crematorium burned down last November while in operation. The funeral director, James Young, proposed rebuilding the old facility and expanding it by 500 additional square feet and adding a second furnace.
“It took us six months to do it, but we’re glad it’s finally over,” Vero Beach attorney Buck Vocelle said of getting approval and starting construction. Vocelle had represented Seawinds in the appeal processes.
Gilliams said that he had to weigh the anticipated expense of launching a court appeal with the intended benefit, which led him to decide against appealing the city council’s decision.
“We feel we would have won,” Gilliams said, but the court costs could have ranged between $13,000 and $17,000. “The sad thing is that it goes back to you can’t fight city hall.”
Charles DeLauder, past president of the Sebastian Elks Lodge, said he was happy conclusion of the battle over the crematorium.
“I think it’s fine,” DeLauder said of the new facility, noting that the Elks and Seawinds reached a compromise and agreement that addressed the group’s concerns over a larger crematorium. “We can live with that.”
Gilliams said he and his attorney both believe that they would have presented a strong case in court against the expansion. He explained that they did not think the city presented “substantial” and “competent” evidence to support Seawinds’ request.
While Gilliams said he is confident he would have had a strong case, Vocelle disagrees.
“It would have been a futile effort on Mr. Gilliam’s part,” the attorney said, explaining that the city council had ruled that Gilliams had no standing to bring the city-level appeal in the first place.
Vocelle also said that even if Gilliams had standing, the resident lost on the merits of the argument.
Gilliams contends that the only reason he did not move forward with the appeal was because of the cost of bringing the suit.
“It comes down to money,” he said, adding that it might have turned out differently if he had been able to find someone willing to share in the cost.
Gilliams added that even if he had won the court appeal against the city, there would have been no guarantee he would have been able to recover his court costs. Nor would there have been a guarantee that the court would have ruled to eliminate the crematorium outright.
“I don’t like to lose with the city,” Gilliams said.