Council kills zone change for crematory

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For the second time in less than a year, a Belen funeral home owner has been denied a zone change that would have allowed him to build a crematory on his property.

Robert Noblin, owner of Noblin Funeral Services, applied for a zone change from Commercial-1 to special use to build a crematorium next to his funeral home on Reinken Avenue. But on a 3 to 1 vote Tuesday, the Belen City Council nixed his plans — at least for now.

"My next step is that I will be consulting with my legal counsel as to whether we'll appeal this to district court," Noblin said. "We will continue to pursue a crematory."

Noblin said while he will still fight to build in Belen, his last option is looking for another location, possibly in Los Lunas, which he says has been "very welcoming" to his business, or in Rio Communities.

"I don't want Belen to lose out on those (gross receipts taxes) just because they don't want (the crematory)," Noblin said. "But ultimately, the families we serve are the most important."

The city council made their decision after a two-hour long discussion Tuesday, hearing from residents who were for and against the zone change, and from Mike Burwell, owner of American Crematory Equipment Co., the California-based manufacturer Noblin is planning to buy his equipment from.

Burwell said he understood some of the concerns residents have about possible emissions and particulates coming from the cremation unit, but said the amount of particulates is very small and doesn't cause any respiratory or cardiovascular problems. He also said there is more emission coming from vehicles and agriculture than the unit would produce.

"This is the most cleanest burning piece of equipment in the country," Burwell told the council.

American Crematory Equipment Co. has sold cremation units in six New Mexico cities, including Albuquerque, Deming, Silver City and in Las Cruces. Burwell said he hasn't received any objections or complaints in any of these cities.

After showing the council a video of one of his crematories, he explained that all anyone will see is a heat plume or heat wave from the stack.

"We place our equipment all over the country and all over the world," Burwell said. "The exhaust is barely noticeable."

Belen resident Frank Storey told the council he opposes the crematory simply because of its location.

"It's in the middle of town, in a historic district, in a residential area, next to a park," Storey said. "This is going to happen right next to a city park. I hope for all the success in the world for Mr. Noblin, but it's just not the right location."

Al Padilla, who lives in the neighborhood near the park, questioned how much gross receipts taxes would be generated, and said it wouldn't be worth it when it comes to the well-being of the children who play at the park.

"I beg the council, please don't allow this crematory be built in this location," Padilla said. "We have a wonderful town. Please, that location is very important This is not a place for a crematory."

Councilor David Carter said after spending many hours researching the issue and actually writing a seven-page report, he realized that all he needed to do was to read the intent of the ordinance, "the city council may not grant a zone change or special use unless satisfactory provisions have been made …"

Carter said it dawned on him that, "the burden of proof is on Mr. Noblin on whether we approve this special-use zone."

"Yes, it meets the standards of the EPA and the state of New Mexico … but I'm concerned about the future," Carter said. "I'm also concerned about the 'ick factor' because the 'ick factor' effects property values. I have not seen this addressed.

"Mr. Noblin, you have done a good job about addressing the other (issues) but you haven't addressed the property values," he said. "You've been trying to convince us, but what you really need to be doing is convincing your neighbors."

Councilor Jerah Cordova, who said he just bought a house in the area, said after doing his own research on the crematorium, hearing from residents and listening to Burrows, he said the council shouldn't consider the so-called "ick factor" because it's subjective.

"I don't think we'll ever get real data on property values, and we have to base our decision on relevant facts," Cordova said. "We can't base our opinion on speculation, and it would be hard for us to deny this zone change."

Cordova, who voted for the zone change last year, made a motion to approve Noblin's request, but his motion died for lack of a second. Carter made a motion to disapprove, which passed on a 3-1 vote, with Cordova voting no.

Councilor Wayne Gallegos said he voted not to approve the zone change because of the residents' concerns

After the vote, Mayor Rudy Jaramillo said while the council had made its decision, he wanted to let it be known that his own home had decreased in value by nearly $200,000 since 2008.

"The property value didn't go down because of a crematory," Jaramillo said. "There are a lot of neighborhoods with boarded-up houses. That's what we need to be looking at — fixing up our community to bring up property values."


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