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Inver Grove Heights snuffs out crematory proposal
Residents raise concerns over influx parcel
David Jansen says his 30-mile commute is worth it, because he gets to live in Inver Grove Heights.
Besides airplanes flying above occasionally, and the sound of twittering birds, his neighborhood is fairly quiet.
His five-acre lot is lush with old oak trees; deer, owls and turkeys often traipse into his yard. It’s nestled next to a small cemetery, but he says he didn’t trade life in the city to live next to a full-scale funeral home and crematorium.
So when he was notified of a potential 9,400-square-foot mortuary at 8225 Argenta Trail, a 13-acre property surrounded by two vacant lots, the Emerald Hills Village manufactured home community and houses on multi-acre lots, he rallied the neighborhood against it.
Quiet space and nature
“You move out here for the space and nature ... and the peace and quiet,” Jansen said in an interview. “I’ve got a lot to lose because (the property in question) is in my front yard.
“(The mortuary) would change the character of the neighborhood.”
The Inver Grove Heights City Council recently sided with Jansen and more than a dozen other residents opposing a cemetery expansion that would have plopped a mortuary with a crematorium into the space.
“The folks that live in that area don’t deserve to have something like that next to their property,” council member Dennis Madden said at the meeting.
The council struck down the project at the May 12 meeting, refusing to change the existing zoning to allow for an industrial-level business.
The developer had requested a change to the zoning code in order to build a crematorium and mortuary on the property as an accessory use with a cemetery.
“I don’t think it fits in the area as it exists,” council member Tom Bartholomew said. “I would not support this activity there.”
The council voted unanimously to deny the project. The council plans to memorialize its decision by voting on a detailed resolution May 27.
It would have been a significant expansion for the 10,000-plot cemetery, where 29 bodies are already buried and about 600 plots are promised to the not-yet deceased, according to Prairie Oaks Memorial Eco Gardens owner Tony Weber. It’s a “green cemetery,” where bodies or cremains are buried in biodegradable caskets, shrouds or urns. Embalming fluid, metal caskets and concrete vaults aren’t used.
Weber said if it had been permitted, the business planned to conduct 100 burials and up to 100 cremations annually. Expansions would have included a chapel, a gathering room and a dining area for the people gathered for celebrations of life.
Quality of life in jeopardy
Residents contended that the crematorium would emit toxins, particulates (dust, soot, ash) and vaporized mercury from dental fillings (although Weber said those would be removed prior to cremation). They said they worried the substances would escape into the air, and onto lawns, roofs and vegetable gardens, and possibly taint the water in their private wells.
Some homeowners said the facility would hamper residential development and harm property values, whether due to true hazards or just perceptions.
“The notion of residing near a crematorium is an unpleasant one,” Linda Dehrer-Wendt and John Wendt wrote in a letter to the city’s planning commission. “This reaction to crematoria ... also may make it more difficult for a homeowner to sell his or her home.”
Some said the proposed use of the property just doesn’t fit the surrounding residential zone, and would draw an inappropriate amount of traffic, especially during funerals.
“That shouldn’t even be going in there,” Jansen said in an interview. “It really boiled down to the zoning issues.”
Weber asserted the cremation equipment would be top of the line. He said particulate emissions would be relatively scant.
He noted a crematory is about four miles away in Eagan near single-family houses, townhouses and senior housing. He said it hasn’t drawn complaints.
“I have a vested interest in making sure that the air pollution is controlled, and the groundwater ... is not contaminated,” Weber said at the meeting. He has family living less than 600 yards from the property, he said.
Although the immediate concern about the mortuary may have passed on, Jansen said his anxiety and questions about the future of the property are far from quelled.
“(The city should) use this opportunity to evaluate what’s going on there,” he said.
He’s lived at his house for about four years, but others who’ve lived there for decades have seen many proposals for the property come and go. One long-time resident even staked out his grave on the land in question in the 1980s, and has had to follow the ever-changing status of development in the area.
“It’s not fair to the neighbors to have to go through this every five years,” Jansen said. “It took a lot out of me. It was three weeks of worry.”
He added, “We’re all going to stay vigilant.”
Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.
A growing concern
As cremations have become more common, so have the concerns surrounding them.
Mercury vaporizes at high temperatures from dental fillings, and other toxins are emitted during cremations.
Currently, half of those who die in Minnesota choose cremation, an increase from about 16 percent in 1990, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. In Dakota County, 51 percent of deaths in cremations in 2009.
Other Minnesota cities have resisted the construction of crematoria. In 2011, Jordan residents halted a crematory due to their concerns over possible hazards. North St. Paul yanked a crematorium proposal that year, too, due to complaints.