Dwayne Parsons will find out some time in the next three weeks whether the City of Corner Brook erred in denying him a permit to build a crematorium.
Parsons owns and operates Country Haven Funeral Home on Country Road in Corner Brook.
In the summer of 2017, he was confident there would be little objection to his application to the city for an expansion that would add a crematorium at the funeral home premises.
Despite City of Corner Brook staff recommending council approve Country Haven’s application, the first time it was voted on resulted in a 3-3 tie. Charles Pender, who was mayor at the time, abstained from voting because his home was in the same neighbourhood as Country Haven and he felt he was in a conflict of interest.
When the matter came back to council, council had determined Pender was not in a conflict. The ensuing vote resulted in the rejection of the staff’s recommendation by a 5-2 margin when Pender sided with rejecting the application and Coun. Bernd Staeben, who had initially voted in support of the request, had a change of heart.
Parsons appealed the decision and a hearing was held by the West Newfoundland Regional Appeal Board in Deer Lake Thursday morning.
The appeal board’s mandate is not to determine the merit of Country Haven’s application. Rather, it must determine if city council abided by the proper rules and regulations in considering its decision.
Board chairperson Lloyd Walters asked if the city had provided a specific reason why the application had been rejected.
Lori Lee Sharpe, the city’s solicitor, noted that city staff must cite a specific reason if its recommendation to council is to refuse an application. In this case, staff’s recommendation had been to approve it, but the final decision was still left to city council’s discretion.
Sharpe said each member of council voted according to their own consciences and the resulting decision did not legally require providing a justification of each council member’s reasons for voting how they did.
The board was also told each council member, before they cast their votes, had access to both feedback received from a public notice about the crematorium proposal advertised in The Western Star and the results of surveys sent to 150 households in the area immediately around the funeral home.
There was also some discussion about whether the city correctly treated the crematorium as a discretionary use for the funeral home or if it should have been treated as an accessory use. Sharpe said, either way, the process would have resulted in city council voting according to their own consciences.
Parsons told the board that a story published by The Western Star three days before council’s second vote may have been a factor in swaying council’s vote. In that story, a woman living near a crematorium in Stephenville, complained about the emissions coming from the facility.
The owner of the Stephenville crematorium refuted what the woman was claiming. Likewise, Parsons contends the emissions from the controlled burning of a state-of-the-art crematorium is safer than a backyard barbecue.
Parsons also told the board he was asked by the city to hold a public forum with his funeral home’s neighbours just days before the vote took place. He said that was an impractical request, given such short notice and it would have had to be held on a weekend.
Parsons does want to hold a public forum and will if he gets another chance to add the crematorium to his Country Road property.
“They are good neighbours of mine and I would love to educate them about what takes place with a crematorium,” Parsons said after Thursday’s hearing. “I would have the right people and resources there to answer all their questions.”
Three residents who live near the funeral home attended the hearing, but none would do an interview after the appeal had been heard.
Walters said the board will make its decision on the appeal within 21 days, but would try to make it as soon as possible.
Parsons said the demand for cremation has grown significantly in the 19 years he has been in business. In fact, more than half the funerals he directs now involve cremation.
The business currently has to cremate bodies in out-of-town locations and wants to offer their own service in-house. It has been suggested that the funeral home build its crematorium in an industrial park area away from residences.
Parsons doesn’t think that should be necessary.
“I just don’t think it’s appropriate to bring families to a beautiful reposing room at a funeral home and then bring them to cold, sterile industrial park for the cremation,” he said.
Regardless of the board’s decision, Parsons said Country Haven will be pursuing its own crematorium somewhere.
“It’s got to happen,” he said. “The business is just crying out for it.”
If the issue does go back to council to revisit, he hopes the new council elected since his proposal was rejected will not base its decision on emotions and support staff’s initial recommendation to approve it.
This is not the only case before the appeal board involving a crematorium. The Town of Deer Lake approved a crematorium for Parsons Funeral Home last October and some residents have appealed that decision, saying it should not be located near homes, schools and other businesses.
No date has been scheduled to hear the Deer Lake appeal.