Plans for Loudon crematory put on hold

After residents raised concerns during a standing-room only meeting, the Loudon Board of Zoning Appeals delayed a vote on the proposed funeral establishment that would feature a crematory.

The former United Community Bank, on Highway 72, has been empty since February. The Director at Click Funeral Homes took out a $3.4 million loan through the bank to buy the building, in hopes of turning part of it into a crematory.

"In Knox and Loudon County it's [cremation] increased because we've had so many people move into this area," said Larry Click, Funeral Director. "I think more people want a more of a simple service, and I think with the economy in the last few years, there have been economic reasons."

Click said the number of cremations has more than doubled statewide and in East Tennessee, and the only crematory he operates is located in Alcoa, 40 miles away.

"We have a nice facility in Alcoa, it's a very nice place. I just think that as cremation increases, we're going to need other facilities and I think it's nice to do it at your location and give families that convenience," said Click.

Click said the Alcoa facility processed more than 2,500 cremations in 2012, and said he's worried the demand will outgrow their capabilities.

"You have some families that want to be near their loved ones when they've had deaths," said Click. "I've had a family that had come with me to the crematory that they need to sit there while the cremation process was going on just to be near his mother. And I understand that. You only have one mother and one dad," said Click.

Click said he also understands concerns Loudon residents spoke on at the meeting.

From parking space to signage to how it will affect other businesses, seven people voiced their opinions against the plans to turn part of the building into a crematory.

"We don't need it," said one resident.

"I'm concerned about it being on Highway 72. It's traveled quite a bit daily. We use that route to town," said Aileen Longmire, a Loudon resident who lives less than a mile from the building. "I think it would affect our future growth there. I just think there would be a better place to locate a crematorium."

Click said the building is ideal for his funeral establishment. He said he would turn the vacant site into a state-of-the-art facility with office operations, and enclose the drive-thru for the crematory.

Some residents were concerned about people watching the cremation. Click explained the process is not literally visible, it would just give people the opportunity to be in attendance while their loved ones are cremated. Click mentioned the possibility of people to drive in, with a garage-style door that would close behind their vehicle during the hour-long process.

As for other concerns, several residents had questions about environmental consequences.

Click said the crematory would fire natural gas, and only require a stack about three feet tall. He said the process involves heating at 1,600-degrees, and said it is quick and clean.

There are 43 crematories in Tennessee, including the Gentry-Griffey Funeral Chapel, in Fountain City, which stirred similar controversy among residents concerned about how it would affect their quality of life.

"There's a stigma about funeral homes, so I didn't really know what to expect," said Click. "I want to do what's good for the community."

The board voted the best thing for the community is deferring a vote on the special exception for 30 days. Members said that would give the public the opportunity to ask questions, and the board more time to research so that it makes an informed decision.

A special exception is required since there is no zone for crematories.

"They [the board] seem to be very fair to people and I want to be part of the community," said Click. "I want to build this community a very nice facility that we can all be proud of and I want them to embrace that too."

Click stressed there are few residents who live close to the site, and cited examples of other crematories that are significantly closer to homes in other cities.

Only one board member voted against deferring immediate action.