Proposed crematorium burns some

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More than 40 residents filled the Belen City Council chambers Monday night to express their opinions about a proposed crematorium being built next to Anna Becker Park.

Councilors are considering a proposed zone change that would allow an on-site crematorium at Noblin Funeral Service at 418 W. Reinken Ave.

With more families choosing cremation over burial and cremation accounting for 65 to 70 percent of his business, now is the time to build a crematory, said Robert Noblin, owner of Noblin Funeral Services.

"We want to do what our families have expressed to us," Noblin said during the public hearing. "We want to give them something that provides them closure, (and) to know their loved one is cared for in one location. We're accommodating families that place their trust in us."

The crematory would operate 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and could offer cremation on weekends if necessary, which isn't an option for the funeral services with the current contracted crematory.

It would be placed inside of a 30-foot by 30-foot building, where Noblin estimates his company will conduct 150 to 200 cremations a year. A one-car garage on the north end of the Noblin parking lot will be demolished and replaced by a three-car garage on the west end.

The garage, located on North Fifth Street, would remove one parking spot from those available to Noblin customers and allow for covered parking for Noblin's hearse and office vehicle.

Noblin said cremations would use natural gas in two chambers, one where the temperature reaches 1,650 degrees and a second after burner where the temperature reaches 2,200 degrees. Odorless heat vapors would exit through the crematory's stack without any visible smoke or particulate matter.

Since the unit emits low emissions and is highly efficient, its emissions are not regulated on a state or federal level, Noblin said. Crematoriums are, however, regulated and subject to inspection by the New Mexico Board of Funeral Services.

The unit Noblin is interested in buying will include additional emissions monitors and oxygen capacitor monitors to detect any errors within the system.

"If something starts to exit the stack above the accepted level of emissions, it shuts the machine down and can be regulated by a computer and the crematory manufacture in California," Noblin said.

"We're taking every precaution necessary and going above and beyond what's necessary to ensure these things are not a nuisance to anyone," he said after the meeting.

Belen's Planning and Zoning Commission split on a 2-2 vote tie on the requested zone change in May. Commission Chairman Rod Storey broke the tie by voting against changing the location from commercial to special-use zoning.

Noblin said 30 residents attended one of the P&Z meetings in support of the crematorium.

To deny the zone change, councilors must demonstrate it is incompatible with the area's property use, contrary to integrity and character of the zone's location, have a negative impact on nearby zones or be detrimental to public interest, safety and general welfare.

Jan Johnson said she wished there was a local crematorium when her parents died, since it would've sped up the process on receiving her parents' remains.

"I understand how you feel about having that in your neighborhood but, if you have to use his service, you want to get it done quickly and at the least possible cost," Johnson said.

Carolyn Huston asked audience members to allow Noblin to give others what he gave her through his funeral services.

"Approve this man. Allow him to do for other families what he has done for me and that is compassion, respect, honor, integrity and professionalism which is all he stands for," Huston said, adding he was her guiding angel.

Funeral service practitioner Joel Chavez with French Mortuary in Albuquerque said although people will create an uproar about a crematorium being built, as soon as it is built, residents don't recognize it or know what happens inside.

"It just becomes part of what used to be there," Chavez said. "You're not going to see smoke or anything. People passing by are going to think it's a garage."

A number of people suggested Noblin buy property outside of the city limits as far as Los Lunas and Estancia for the crematory.

"Surely they can find another spot to build another one," said Al Padilla. "This is just not the right place to do it."

Belen resident Alford Sanchez added, "I'm opposed to the building of this crematory. If you want to build a crematory, build it on the outskirts of Belen."

Planning and zoning commission members also asked Noblin why he didn't build the crematorium in Los Lunas, to which he responded it was more cost affective to do so on property he owned.

Carolyn St. Clair said she didn't like the "ick factor" of having a crematorium in her neighborhood. "I really don't think having a crematorium is in good taste for our town or this location," St. Clair said.

Frank Storey, a vendor at the Belen Farmers Market held at Anna Becker Park across the street from the funeral home, said the crematory shouldn't be placed next to a residential area and city park where children play and receive free summer lunches.

Mona Gonzales added, "It's a disgrace for you to be doing this. They're burning bodies next to where our children play. I can't even tell you how that makes my skin crawl."

Rick Gonzales said the thought of his grandchildren asking where their grandpa was cremated and pointing to the crematory next to the park they're playing in " is horrendous."

Mayor Rudy Jaramillo said he didn't understand the stigma associated around crematoriums. He said he was unaffected by growing up next to the Our Lady of Belen Memorial Gardens Cemetery and students walk by the cemetery to Belen High School everyday — unaffected.

"Death is cremation or burial," Jaramillo said. "It's still the same thing. The individual died and has to be an issue that is dealt with by mortuaries."

Bernie Herrera, a nearby neighbor, said he was concerned about the dangers a crematorium could pose if a distracted driver crashed into the unit and created a gas explosion.

Terry Maynor said the crematorium would decrease property values in the area.

"We all work hard to maintain our houses and make our homes look nice and neat and acceptable and increase the value of our property," Maynor said. "It's going to be an eyesore."

John Padilla added, "How are we going to sell the property we've owned for years and years that's going to be downgraded by the crematory? We're going to have to tell people that there is a crematory within our neighborhood."

Viola Espinoza responded that residents aren't taking into consideration the vacant homes around town that are already devaluing property values.

The council will consider the zone change at its next meeting scheduled for Monday, July 1.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.