A pet crematory was approved by Hawley Borough Council Wednesday night, after a two hour hearing full of diverse opinions.
Mark James, who operates a human crematory in Lake Ariel and also is employed by Teeters' Funeral Chapel, plans to open the pet service in the former Angelo's Bakery building two doors from the Hawley Silk Mill along Route 6 as one enters town from the direction of Lake Wallenpaupack.
His state permit limits him to offer cremation to 1,000 animals a year, up to a limit of 200 pounds. Hours will be limited to Monday- Friday, 8:30 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. He is doing business as Northeast Pennsylvania Cremation Services Inc.
Concerns swirled among audience members at Borough Hall, who lamented the idea of a crematory greeting people as they enter the southern "gateway" into town, whether property values would drop and a next door neighbor worried about her children seeing deceased pets brought in.
Plans to display sample gravestones along the front of the building- for both human and pet memorials- irked some.
Questions also arose over having enough parking, although James already has his PennDOT Highway Occupancy Permit and business parking has been there for many years- including when it was Latournas Cut Glass shop. The PennDOT right-of-way takes up most of the parking area.
Other local residents offered support to James, saying that what he was planning would be a whole lot better than the building allowed to remain empty. Pet owners hailed it as a needed service.
James offered assurance that no animals will be visible from neighboring properties. Testimony was also given stressing that no smoke or odor would be able to escape.
Borough Council approved the plan with numerous conditions. Among them is that no monuments block parking space; State inspection reports and violation notices be copied to the Borough; signs be put up directing people where to deliver pets; only certified personnel be allowed to operate the furnace; adequate but "reasonable" screening be provided to satisfy the neighbors' concerns; notification be given to the fire company and Borough if there is a furnace malfunction and a 45 day advance notice be given the Borough should there be a change of ownership.
In addition, no expansion of operations will be allowed without approval by the Borough.
James' attorney, David Gregory, noted that his client has performed over 2,100 human cremations at Lake Ariel since August 2006 and there have been no complaints from neighbors or violation notices. Crematory operations are regulated by the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which conducts at least annual, random inspections.
Various Council members toured Lake Region Crematory in Lake Ariel and reported finding it sanitary and odorless. Houses are nearby.
Don Collins, a consultant from Matthews International Cremation in Apopka, FL, testified about the cremation process and unit James will be operating. Although it heats to 3,000 degrees, he said you could place your hands on the outside and not be burned. Smoke or odors are incinerated and none escape. Records are automatically inscribed on a graph. If there was a malfunction, the unit shuts itself down. The stack on the roof is only for heat ventilation.
Page 2 of 3 - James and anyone else operating the machine must be certified by DEP. A technician will stay on site three days to train James and his staff. Up to three people will be working there.
Screening raised much concern. The way the building is designed, deliveries will be take to the right side of the structure and will be within a six foot-high gated fence. Most of the time, James will use their own vehicle to transport an animal from a veterinary clinic, although the public may bring their own deceased pet.
Timely Treasures, an antique business, is to the right of James' property as seen from Route 6. The ravine is in back.
To the left, however, is what used to be a tile shop. Justin Genzlinger purchased the property in June for his residence, and that of Heather Hoffman and her two children, ages 9 and 10.
"They're concerned about burning pets next door," Hoffman said about her children. She said this is a major concern of hers, only a few feet away and feels a six-foot fence won't be enough to block the view from upstairs.
James said he understands the concern as he has a small child, but in this case, nothing would be visible from the left side of the building.
Her other concerns involve safety should anything go wrong, and their ability to enjoy their home. She questioned why if all places in the area would a crematory be "squeezed" between buildings.
Borough Solicitor Robert Bernathy interjected, asking Hoffman if she was aware she was making her home right in a general business district.
Justin Genzlinger said that the trees between the two properties are not adequate screening.
He was also concerned about "the optics" of this gateway into town, with the sight of memorials lined up. Richard Teeter - a funeral director- countered that a lot of gravestones are seen coming into Hawley on Rt. 590, where there are cemeteries.
Genzlinger was represented by his attorney R. Anthony Waldron III, who questioned why James could not combine the pet service with the human crematory at Lake Ariel.
Waldron also raised the point that the Zoning Ordinance prohibits parking in a right-of-way except in an established area such as a street with meters. Although there was parking there before, he said he did not not know if it was done legally.
Joe Drake, whose brother built the structure, echoed concern about the neighbors.
Estella Rojas suggested it was "psychologically horrible" for kids to live next door to a pet cremation service. She also despised the thought of seeing monuments as you enter town.
Justin's father, Grant Genzlinger, expressed concern over the appearance of the entrance way into town. He also said that equipment can break down, and should be monitored more than once a year. He stressed that the Borough not allow any expansion to the business.
Page 3 of 3 - The same scrutiny the Silk Mill received concerning parking and turn-around should be given this project, said Grant, who is a major principal behind the Hawley Silk Mill.
Diana Biillard, however, spoke in favor, saying she was glad the building will be occupied. As a pet lover, she said it was nice to have a crematory in the area when needed. Public bringing their pets in, moreover, would likely have them covered or boxed.
Linda Arnold, a resident of the Snufftown neighborhood across the road, said that the property now looks like a "dump" and a crematory will beautify the area.
Susan Baldwin spoke highly of Mark James' integrity, and was sure he would not do anything detrimental to the area.
William Delling commented that when anyone tries to make something better in Hawley, they are put down. He noted the several vacant stores downtown and the long-closed Arby's Restaurant just outside of town. "He's trying to improve the town and he has to go through this rigamarole," he said.
Council members offered remarks before they voted:
Joseph Faubel said he could imagine much more disruptive uses for the building. Concern about property values is speculative. The empty structure is worse than what is proposed.
John Robertson said James runs a clean operation in Lake Ariel. He is satisfied that animals won't be visible from the outside.
Mary Sanders said that if restrictions could be met, this can be a legitimate use. Stroyan's Funeral Home in Milford also displays gravestones outside, near an entrance to town.
Don Kyzer said there always was parking there before so why should there be a problem now?
Michelle Rojas asked that DEP send inspection reports to the Borough. Planning Commission also looked at the plan and recommended its approval.
Elaine Herzog called this proposal a "150% improvement over what is there now." Concerns over having a crematory there is a perceptual issue, she said. Assuming conditions are met, it will be an asset.