Harwood Home for Funerals in Black Mountain, North Carolina has spent the past few months at the center of a controversy with some citizens of Black Mountain. Harwood’s owner Rick Harwood wished to expand his business to offer cremation services. To do so he planned to purchase an incineration machine and expand the footprint of his existing building to install it. The controversy came about due to a zoning mistake that prohibited expansion of the building. In 2010, Black Mountain rezoned Harwood’s location to central business district zoning which does not allow for a funeral home to be operated. The director of planning and development said that while this zoning change made Harwood Home for Funerals a nonconforming use, it was likely due to a mistake of zoning.
When Mr. Harwood applied to the planning board for a rezoning of his property so he could be in compliance with the zoning laws and expand his building, he made it known that he wished to offer cremation and that he would be installing an incineration machine. He believes that cremation may be the chosen option for as many as 75% of his customers by 2030. Some citizens of Black Mountain heard of this change and are worried about harmful fumes and bad odors being emitted from the building. The machine Mr. Harwood plans on purchasing has safeguards that work to eliminate emissions while any smoke left after incineration is recirculated and purified before being released to the world outside. The issue for Mr. Harwood is that his existing location is a 90-year-old building that cannot feasibly hold the incineration machine. So, he needs an appropriate rezoning of just his property to a highway business district that would allow him to remodel and install the machine. This will allow him to install the incineration machine in a manner that would minimize or eliminate any of the feared fumes or odors.
Black Mountain, like most local governments across the country, has a city planning committee that will hear requests for zoning variances or rezoning, make a determination about the requested change, and pass along their recommendation to the local legislative body who makes the ultimate decision on the issue. The Black Mountain Planning Board voted 4-3 in favor of recommending rezoning for the funeral home and sent the matter to the Board of Alderman (the Black Mountain legislative body). On November 7, the Board of Aldermen held a public hearing about the rezoning matter and heard the concerns of the citizens. Many of the public comments were made in opposition to the installation of an incineration machine because of fear about toxins and fumes being released into the air. Ultimately the board decided that this matter only came into the public eye due to the mistake in zoning and that arguments opposing the rezoning merely in opposition to the addition of a crematory were irrelevant because Mr. Harwood could install the machine in his building without rezoning and they, as the local government, could do nothing to stop him. The Board of Alderman unanimously voted to rezone Harwood Home for Funerals to a highway business district as requested. Had the property been properly zoned for a funeral home when the city most recently updated their zoning then Mr. Harwood would be able to expand his building and business without any approval from the city or input from the citizens.