Council hears pros and cons of crematory

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The debate about whether a local funeral director should be able to build a crematorium on his property was heard by the city council Monday, but a final decision for a zone change won't be made until later this month.

Robert Noblin, owner of Noblin Funeral Services, stood before the Belen City Council saying that his application and "satisfactory" evidence supports the council granting the zone change from commercial to special use.

Noblin said he will be demolishing a one-car garage on his property on Reinken Avenue and will be building a new three-car garage, which will house the crematorium in one of the three bays.

The city's attorney, Charles Rennick, told the council that in order to approve the special use, they have to consider the effect on surrounding properties and whether it is compatible to others in the general area and to the adjacent properties. He said the council must make sure the special use won't be detrimental to the health and safety of the residents.

During Monday's public hearing, several people spoke for and against the crematorium.

"I've met the issues with the parking … the emission guidelines have been met, and I think we've met all the issues with property values," Noblin told the council. "This structure will not in any way be cause for alarm or a dangerous traffic situation. I will not create a public nuisance or an eyesore that would effect property values."

Noblin's attorney, Amelia Nelson, with the Rosales Law Group in Albuquerque, told the council that a funeral home has been in operation at the location for eight years, which meets with the degree of property use. She said a crematory won't change the type of service the funeral home provides.

Nelson also said since the funeral home has been in existence, it has not decreased property values, but, in fact, some have increased since it's been there.

"I thought it was a very nice, well-maintained building," Nelson said of the funeral home. "The building is historical in nature and it's a community-minded business."

When speaking about the health and safety concerns of the community, she said that Noblin has "made all efforts to assure you that there is no detriment to public health.

"You've seen the emission reports to assure you that you are not going to be succumbed to a public health issue," Nelson said. "The safety aspect is most important, and this building will be secured and maintained."

Noblin also told the council he has submitted a letter from the New Mexico Environment Department Air Quality Bureau, which says they don't need a permit from the state for a crematorium. Nelson did say that while a permit is not required, inspections can be made at the facility.

Answering questions from Councilor Jerah Cordova, Noblin said no odors will be emitted from the crematorium and the only thing people will see is residual heat coming from the heat stack. He told Cordova the unit, which will be powered by natural gas, is safe.

"The unit itself is computerized," Noblin said.

The local funeral director told the council that the computer monitors the unit's temperatures, and he's decided to install an additional diagnostic system that would alert him and the manufacturer if there is a problem.

Noblin told Cordova that he plans to operate the crematorium from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. He also said because of the new building, he estimates he will lose one parking space from the property.

When questioned by Councilor Audrey Vallejos about why a permit from the Air Quality Bureau isn't required, Noblin responded by saying that a crematories are no longer regulated through federal guidelines, but through the state's Board of Funeral Services, which, he says, will come out and inspect facilities.

Councilor David Carter said he's been researching the issue of emissions from crematoriums and that he is concerned about the toxins that would be emitted from the facility.

"Can you tell me what the long term effects of kids playing in the park and being fed lunch during the summertime?" Carter asked Noblin. "I don't think we have any long-term studies about whether or not they will be affected by those elements."

Noblin responded by saying that the unit he would be purchasing has safeguards, and that the low emissions is below state guidelines.

"We would never do anything that would be detrimental to anyone's health," Noblin said. "How many homes are there in the neighborhood that have been built with lead-based paint … or has asbestos? If those homes burns, they would be more detrimental to people than this."

While none of the property owners who received written notification of the zone change spoke at the public hearing, several others outside the 100-foot notification range made their views known to the council Monday.

Karen Maynor, who lives on Fifth Street, caddy corner to the funeral home, said she was concerned about the cremation of people who have mercury in the fillings of their teeth. She said through research, she learned that while not regulated in the United States, it is in other parts of the world.

"It imposes a health risk to surrounding areas," Maynor said. "This is something I'm concerned about, especially with children playing in the park. They absorb it faster than adults."

Her husband, Terry, said he's concerned that the crematorium would decrease their property values.

"The majority of people for this are not from here," Terry Maynor said. "If it were me and I didn't live where I live, I wouldn't care. But these are concerns because we're directly affected."

Al Padilla, who lives on the same block, said he's concerned about the location of the proposed crematorium.

"My kids were raised here and played in that park," Padilla said. "My grandchildren played in that park — even my grandson, (Councilor) Jerah (Cordova) played there.

"I see all those kids having fun, people have birthday parties there," he said. "This has nothing to do with Noblin personally, I don't know him very well, but there surely could be another location."

Noblin responded to the concerns from Padilla, who owns a local hair salon, saying that chemicals, such as perm solutions, are being washed down drains everyday.

Louis Lusero, who lives in Las Maravillas, said he spends 85 percent of his time in the Hub City and said there are more important issues regarding children rather that the proposed crematorium.

"There are children living without electricity, in meth houses, and who are being abused," Lusero said. "There are landlords who won't fix faulty heaters. I think we need to put the energy into those areas rather than this issue.

"I don't have a horse in this race, but when I hear about children's safety, I want you to talk about the serious issues. There has not been one death attributed or caused by emission by a crematory."

Marcella Chavez, who lives three houses behind the funeral home, said putting a crematory at that location would be like putting a chicken ranch or a dairy in the middle of town.

"This gentleman is forcing us to accept this," Chavez said. "It's not only in the middle of town, but in a residential area. Like I told you before, I am going to get cremated, but not in the middle of town."

Noblin informed the council that the owner of American Crematory, the company he plans to buy the equipment from, will be at the next council meeting on Jan. 21, when the council is expected to make its final decision, to give them additional information about the unit.

Before the public hearing was completed, Rennick told the council that because they're a quasi judicial board regarding this matter, it would be inappropriate for them to speak about the issue with anyone before they made a final decision.


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