CANTON — The Cherokee Board of Commissioners is set to decide Tuesday whether or not a cemetery owner in the Macedonia community can go through with plans to construct the county’s first crematorium.
Bart Williams, owner of Macedonia Memorial Cemetery, made a rezoning request to Cherokee County in hopes to build a crematorium at the intersection of East Cherokee Drive and Highway 20.
The request is on the agenda for the Board’s meeting at 6 p.m. at the Cherokee County Conference Center at the Bluffs in Canton.
Some questions have been raised as to whether or not Williams’ request would go before the Board on Tuesday, because Chairman Buzz Ahrens will not be at the meeting and Commissioner Brian Poole was said to be considering not taking part in the vote as he works in the funeral home industry.
However, County Clerk Christy Black confirmed Wednesday that the Board will hear the case Tuesday.
Poole also clarified Wednesday that he does plan to vote on Williams’ request.
“I have read hundreds of emails from (residents),” Poole said. “And I plan on honoring their request.”
Commissioner Harry Johnston said he plans to vote with the opinion of the people of the county, which he said means he will vote to deny Williams’ request. The property is in Johnston’s district.
Johnston said he has received hundreds of emails and calls advocating against the crematorium.
Commissioners Raymond Gunnin and Jason Nelms both declined to comment on how they would vote, but they said they have been carefully considering the matter.
Nelms said he’s received “70-plus” emails on the case.
The request has raised strong concerns from residents who say the development would pose a grave risk to the health of those residents living nearby and the students at an elementary school across the street from the proposed site.
About 100 residents turned out to the Cherokee Planning Commission meeting last Tuesday to oppose Williams’ request and were furious when the commission approved the request 5 to 4.
For Williams to move forward, the Board of Commissioners will have to approve his request.
Several of the residents railing against the proposed crematorium said they planned to attend the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday to continue their protest.
Williams, who defended his case before the Planning Commission last week, said again Wednesday that he planned to attend the Board’s meeting Tuesday to stand his ground, saying that his crematorium would not be a danger in its proposed location.
He said the location he has chosen in Macedonia is “perfect” for such an operation.
But since the Planning Commission gave its approval last week, Williams said he has heard from even more residents who claim his development will emit dangerous levels of pollutants such as mercury and be a threat to public health.
Williams said he has been “mischaracterized” and “vilified” by these residents.
“I’m being attacked, I’m being insulted,” he said. “I’ve even been threatened.”
Williams said that he is not, as a recent letter to the editor published in the Tribune suggested, a “wealthy undertaker” simply looking to make money, disregarding the will and health of the public.
“Certainly, I’m doing this in the hopes that it’s going to make money,” he said. “But it’s not as if I’m a ‘wealthy undertaker’ looking to take advantage of and kill the innocent children of Cherokee County.”
Instead, he said he is trying to help fill the need in the county for a facility to serve those who want to be cremated and that he has done extensive research and concluded that such operations are not a risk.
But residents against the crematorium, like Dick Miller, say they have done research as well.
“We have done our homework,” Miller said. “We know these things are not safe. The residents are unified and categorically against having this thing there.”
Another resident, Paula Carpenter, said Wednesday that she isn’t necessarily opposed to Williams’ plans to build a crematorium, but that the location is too “residential” and too close to the school.
”I have no problem with him wanting to own (this) business,” Carpenter said. “What I have a problem with is him doing it in such a residential area.”