CANTON — Residents worried a proposed crematorium in Macedonia poses a serious health threat reacted in disgust Tuesday night as they watched a Cherokee County board move the project one step closer to reality.
About 100 residents turned out to the Cherokee Planning Commission meeting Tuesday in Canton and made their anger known after the commission voted 5-4 to give its approval of a rezoning request for a crematorium at Macedonia Memorial Cemetery east of Canton on Highway 20.
The recommendation now heads to the Cherokee Board of Commissioners for a final vote.
Residents in opposition complained pollutants emitted from such operations pose a threat to the health of those nearby, including the students at an elementary school across the street from the proposed location near the intersection of East Cherokee Drive and Highway 20.
“Shame on you,” one woman said to the planning commission as the crowd funneled out of the meeting.
“Put it behind your house,” a man in the crowd called out.
“You’re supposed to represent the county, not the money,” another man shouted.
Bart Williams, owner of Macedonia Memorial Cemetery, said he was pleased the commission agreed that his operation would not be a health hazard.
Williams put in the request to rezone half an acre at the cemetery in hopes of building Cherokee County’s first crematorium.
He said during the meeting Tuesday that with more and more people choosing cremation over burial, the county needs a business to handle the load.
Williams strongly denies that his operation would be dangerous.
“I’ve built my entire career on data and facts,” he told the planning commission.
Williams presented data to the commission he said proves that
crematoriums are not hazardous.But residents in attendance brought their own data, which they said proves that there are risks.
One resident, Corey Manus, read a study to the planning board, stating harmful levels of pollutants like mercury are emitted from such operations.
Manus said he wouldn’t feel safe living nearby.
“My back door is 2,000 feet from this proposed crematory,” he told the planning commission. “If (this) was being placed 2,000 feet behind your home, would you accept it? I don’t think you would. Mr. Williams wouldn’t.”
Williams responded to Manus and the other residents who spoke and said that if he believed there were health hazards associated with his proposal, he wouldn’t be pursuing it.
“The emissions from the device are well within the (Environmental Protection Agency) guidelines,” he said.
Before the vote, Planning Commission Vice Chairman Tom Hill said the evidence presented from each side of the argument was conflicting.
Hill read parts of a study from the United Kingdom, which he said concluded that crematoriums do have emissions, but that they are minimal.
Commission Chair Bob Whitaker, who, along with Hill, voted to approve Williams’ request, said the issue was an emotional one, but that he didn’t feel the operation would be hazardous, even in this mostly residential area of the county.
Whitaker said he’d visited another non-industrial area with a crematorium and did not see any effects of the operation.
“There wasn’t any odor. I couldn’t tell you when they built that facility. I didn’t notice it,” he said. “My guess is that crematorium is not impacting perceptively the neighborhood.”
After the meeting, some residents vowed to continue their fight against Williams’ plans.
Dick Miller, who lives in Macedonia, said he didn’t feel the planning commission had seen the right data.
“I just wonder how much junk the perpetrator sent to or got to (the commission) before tonight’s meeting,” he said. “We’re going to really fight this to win.”
Another resident, Jim Putt, was also not happy.
“This is not rational to put an industrial process right in the middle of homes and commercial businesses,” Putt said. “It doesn’t make any sense. Government is supposed to keep one individual from infringing on another one.”
Manus said he won’t live near Williams’ facility should it be built.
“I have a 1-year-old daughter,” he said. “Do I want to raise my daughter in that situation? If that crematory’s built, I can almost (promise) my home will be on the market.”
He said he plans to keep pushing the county to stop the crematorium.
“If we gotta go to court, we’ll go to court,” he said.
In addition to Hill and Whitaker, those in favor were Joe Long, Betty Callahan and Rick Whiteside.
Those opposed to the crematorium were Garland Stewart, Scott Barnes, Richard Weatherby and Thais Escondo.
For Williams to go ahead with his plans, the Board of Commissioners must give final approval of his zoning request.
Jeff Watkins, Cherokee director of planning and zoning, said Wednesday that the Cherokee Board of Commissioners will often act on recommendations from the planning commission at its next meeting, but in this case, it may be pushed to a meeting in July.
The Board of Commissioners has 90 days from the public hearing Tuesday to approve or deny Williams’ request, Watkins said.