Funeral home's proposed expansion creates crematorium controversy

South Bend, Ind. A funeral home’s plans for expansion have some neighbors fired up.

Zahoran Funeral Home has been in business since the 1920s and, since then, has seen a sharp increase in demand for cremation.

So, the family wants to build its own crematorium just over a half mile away from its current location on South Kemble Street.

“It wasn’t feasible to do it here [on Kemble Street],” said Zahoran Funeral Director Patrick Nowak. “This general area [Franklin Street] is basically centrally located for some of the funeral homes we want to service.”

The crematorium would be inside a brick warehouse at 1731 S. Franklin Street. The area’s zoned as light industrial, but backs up to several homes.

And, that has some people living nearby worried. Dozens have signed a petition protesting the project.

“My concerns are our property values,” said Heather Frost, who lives just one street over. “Not knowing if they’re going to go up, if they’ll remain the same, if they’ll go down.”

The funeral home held a public meeting Monday night to address people’s concerns. The media was allowed to attend, but Nowak would not allow news outlets to record the meeting.

About two dozen people showed up, many already with strong opinions about the proposal.

Several people expressed concerns about the potential for an odd odor to come from the facility.

“They don't know if it's going to leave a smell,” said Everett Carver, who wants to buy a home that backs up to the proposed site. “That's one of the main concerns I have. I don't want it coming out my front door smelling a bad smell.”

Kevin Finnery, a representative from the crematorium manufacturer, says the equipment incinerates remains. After that, the materials are digested in an after burner system, which consumes smoke and other organic compounds and then puts out a clean emission. He says it’s more likely for people to notice odors from nearby fast food restaurants than it is for them to detect a smell from the crematorium.

But, neighbors say their concerns don’t end with the smell. They’re also worried about the potential for themselves or their children to see bodies being taken in and out of the crematorium.

Nowak says there’s no way that would happen.

“We'll be able to pull vehicles into the garage area,” he said. “Once the vehicle gets in there, we'd be able to close the doors, remove the remains from that vehicle and then they would be able to exit. Nobody would see a body at any time.”

While the majority of neighbors are opposed to the crematorium being built on Franklin Street, a growing group says they’re all for it. In fact, multiple people said they would welcome such an expansion in their own backyards.

“There’s nothing wrong with it,” said Kathy Baugher, who lives near the funeral home. “Compared to the house that’s next door empty and with trash, I’d rather have them put something like that there.”

The Common Council will consider the issue at its Sept. 23 meeting.

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