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Littleton Zoning Board denies crematorium

November 18, 2009
LITTLETON—A standing room only crowd in the Heald Room of the Community House last Tuesday evening, announced loud and clear to the Littleton Zoning Board of Adjustment that a proposed crematorium was going to be a hot topic.

Before the meeting could even get underway, the large turnout of concerned citizens led Board Chair Eddy Moore to make the decision to move the meeting to the Community House Annex.

At issue was a request for a variance on permitted use by Sabbow and Co., headquartered in Concord and doing business in New Hampshire as Granite State Crematorium and New Hampshire Wilbert Vault Co. The company sells monuments, burial vaults and precast concrete, along with running crematory services in Concord, and until recently, Berlin.

The company has a lease, with a purchase option, on the Norton Pike building on Highland Ave.

In April, it moved its monument, casket, and vault inventory out of its facility in Berlin and into the much larger Norton Pike building.

A few weeks ago, a fire destroyed the company's crematory facility in Berlin and is hoping to relocate the operation to Littleton. According to Peter Scott, assistant general manager of the company, the fire was unrelated to the crematorium, and in fact had not affected the actual crematory at all.

Mark Chase, a resident of Toney's Mobile Home Park behind the former Norton Pike building, said he had found out about the hearing on the previous Saturday morning.

"This is unthinkable they would try to sneak this in," he said.

Chase immediately set to work circulating a petition over the weekend to attempt to stop it.

The public hearing was the result of a request by the company for a use variance to allow the operation of a crematorium, a use that is not specifically listed in the zoning ordinance listed permitted uses.

"It's not a technology anybody should be afraid of," Scott told the board. "Smoke, odor, and pollution are not an issue."

Ed Romaro, a representative of the Matthews Cremation Corp. which manufactures the equipment used by Granite State Crematorium, said that, "the equipment is designed to operate without smoke or odor."

He added that, "the amount of particulate matter produced by a home barbeque or woodstove, is much higher than that produced by the crematory."

This did little to calm the concerns of those residents in the neighborhood.

Chase's petition stated that the town of Littleton "does not have the infrastructure to monitor these toxic chemical emissions hourly or daily, nor is it fair to gamble with the health of neighborhoods or generations of Littleton residents."

He pointed out that the state has tens of thousands of uninhabited acres that are more suitable for crematorium sites.

Moore pointed out that Chase's petition, "Is not legal to us, but we will accept it as input."

State statute also requires the facilities be inspected every three years.

Scott explained that crematorium equipment must meet the standards set by the state and federal air qualities agencies and the equipment that would be used in Littleton has a smokestack.

If the facility is run properly, he told the board, nothing is emitted from the smokestack that can ordinarily be seen or smelled.

Scott said the crematory would go in the portion of the building closest to where Highland Avenue intersects Brook Road.

Resident Karen Foss told Scott, "If there are no emissions, you wouldn't need a smokestack," adding, "Why does this have to be in a residential area, why don't you find something in the industrial park?"

Scott quickly responded, "Because we already have a building, and it's zoned industrial."

He pointed out to the board that the Berlin facility had been in operation for a decade, and when it burned down, residents in the neighborhoods surrounding it were surprised to learn the facility had even existed.

Carson St. resident Kim Skidmore asked how many bodies the company planned to do each month.

Scott explained that the cases would come from the company's customers (funeral homes) from as far north as Colebrook and down through the Littleton area and would average about eight per month.

He said that the equipment could handle as much as a case every three hours.

"I sound like a salesman," Scott said, "But, we do run a good shop."

With the company's Berlin facility out of operation, cases from the North Country have to be transported to the company's Concord facility, which takes a full day.

"It's not fiscally advantageous," Scott said.

Resident Rita McLeod expressed concerns about what the effect the facility could have on real estate values in the neighborhood.

Romaro countered that there has never been any evidence to show that a crematory had any effect.

According to New Hampshire RSA 325-A, "a crematory shall conform to all building codes and environmental regulations [and] ... a crematory may be constructed at any location consistent with applicable zoning and environmental regulations."

"I think if this is passed, it would be contrary to the zoning regulations," Chase told the board.

Alternate Zoning Board member Kyle Jensen pointed out that Sabbow and Co.'s application for a zoning variance was not due to a hardship, as the application implied, but due to a self-imposed hardship.

Board member Eugene Langdoc agreed saying, "The zoning restriction does not interfere with the current use of the property."

After further deliberation, the board voted against granting the variance, four to one.

Upon delivering the decision, Moore told Scott that his company could petition town residents to have a warrant article placed on the town ballot for Town Meeting in March.

Scott said that the company would consider the option.

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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