Robert Noblin, owner of Noblin Funeral Services, plans to appeal Monday night’s city council decision to deny a requested zone change that would allow the Belen business to add an on-site crematorium to the full-service funeral home.
“We’re not discouraged by this decision and we have other avenues we’re going to pursue, including an appeal,” Noblin said.
He said he will submit an appeal to Belen’s Planning and Zoning Commission after he and his lawyers review the Belen City Council’s decision and the city’s ordinance pertaining to the zone change.
During an almost two-hour second public hearing, residents lined up against the council chamber walls, filled every available seat and sat on the floor listening to public comments and the councilors’ final decision on the proposed crematorium.
Councilor Jerah Cordova made the first motion to approve the proposed zone change from commercial to special-use zoning, which would allow an on-site crematorium at 418 W. Reinken Ave. But his motion died due to a lack of a second.
Councilor Audrey Torres-Vallejos then moved to deny the proposed zone change, and Councilor David Carter seconded the motion.
Torres-Vallejos, Carter and Councilor Wayne Gallegos voted not to approve the zone change, while Cordova cast the only yes vote.
The zone change request was passed up to councilors after P&Z commissioners voted 3-2 against recommending the zone change.
During the first public hearing on the issue, residents clapped for those who spoke against the measure and yelled in Noblin’s face while addressing the council.
“Sentiments that were expressed at the last meeting are in no way a fair representation about how the community feels about this issue,” Noblin said. “The last meeting was nothing short of an organized witch hunt.”
He recognized that a large portion of the debate came down to competition among the two funeral homes in Belen, but asked councilors to base their decision solely on the facts before them.
“Families, time and time again, have expressed their interest in us having (a crematorium) and for their loved ones being cared for here, us providing a seamless service and for us to be able to control the entire process,” he said.
Dicky Romero, owner of Romero Funeral Home, said he relayed to residents the information he learned about crematoriums when he was considering adding one to his establishment on Main Street.
“We couldn’t overcome the idea of putting it in the middle of two schools, McDonald’s and now Little Caesars,” Romero said.
Odorless heat vapors would exit Noblin crematory’s stack without any visible smoke or particulate matter.
Since the unit emits low emissions and is highly efficient, its emissions are not regulated on a state or federal level, Noblin said.
A letter from the New Mexico Environment Department’s Air Quality Bureau states, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has done several studies on crematoriums and concluded that air emissions from these sources are at levels not harmful to the environment.”
The machine Noblin wants to buy includes additional emissions monitors and control devices that would immediately shut down the equipment if any errors occur within the system. The machine also would be regulated by the crematory manufacturer and regulated and inspected by the New Mexico Board of Funeral Services.
Noblin previously said he is “taking every precaution necessary and going above and beyond what’s necessary to ensure” the crematorium is not a nuisance.
Plans call for the crematory to be inside of a 30-foot by 30-foot building. A one-car garage on the north end of Noblin’s parking lot would be demolished and replaced by a three-car garage on the west end.
The garage, located on North Fifth Street, would remove one parking spot from Noblin’s customers and allow for covered parking for Noblin’s hearse and office vehicle.
Carter’s objection to the zone change came from fearing that particulates from the crematorium would be blown into the park and consumed by children fed in Anna Becker Park.
“I don’t want to impede any business. I want businesses to thrive in Belen, but like we’ve heard before it’s about location, location, location,” Carter said. “I am very concerned about the location of the crematorium and if you can guarantee that these particulates will not fall in the park and ingested by students, then I don’t see a problem with it.”
Cordova countered with, “It’s been demonstrated, through facts presented, that the environmental impact from emissions is less than the traffic passing by on Reinken Avenue in front of Anna Becker Park. Those emissions have a much more substantial impact on kids that are in the park than this crematorium will ever have.”
Cordova said he could find no factual reasons to deny the zone change when reviewing the city’s ordinance.
“The existing use is already a funeral home, which already has the ick factor, and all you’re doing is adding a service that the public needs,” Cordova said.
Susan Cudare said she would be at ease if she knew her loved one’s body would be cared for at one location instead of being transferred to another business for cremation.
At first, resident Katie Arisman was concerned about a crematorium down the street from the day care center her daughter attends. But, she said that after researching the safety aspect, she found nothing leading her to believe the crematorium would pose a danger.
Leslie Allgood told the council she found similar results since she couldn’t find any studies indicating a crematorium in a neighborhood would be harmful to residents.
Richard Jackson, who lived in Japan for three years, said he lived in a neighborhood where the nearby crematorium was running every Saturday and “it was not pleasant.”
“We love our community and we want to see it prosper, however, we don’t feel that a crematorium a block away from the house is going to do anything for us,” Jackson said.
Carolyn St. Clair said the crematorium is being imposed on residents in the area and a second crematorium in the county is redundant.
“I don’t know what your vision is for Belen, but my vision of Belen and a number of other people does not include a crematorium in the heart of our city,” St. Clair said.
Ruby Glasscock said residents were comparing this crematorium to prison camps where bodies were burned.
“I toured one in Germany, which was next door to a church, and they didn’t know that they were burning bodies next door,” Glasscock said.
Sam Chavez, president of the Belen Board of Education, said children passing by the crematorium wouldn’t understand the processes going on inside.
“There is a stigma and it’s something a young child will not understand,” Chavez said.
He proposed the crematorium be located elsewhere, such as Rio Communities.
Clarke Metcalf said Rio Communities was very much in favor of this expansion and knows the council would welcome and approve the zone change.
Belen businessman Herman Tabet told the council the middle of town is not the place for a crematorium and offered to donate five acres to Noblin on the west mesa.
Jackie Graves, another resident, said the crematorium should be outside of Belen.
Since Kenneth Sandlin has lived in the county, he’s watched countless businesses pack up and leave the area.
“Here, we have a young gentlemen trying to create revenue for our city and we’re fighting it?” Sandlin said.
Former Belen Mayor Ronnie Torres added, “As much as we profess that we want to keep businesses alive, we have a business that wants to become self-sufficient … He wants to invest in our community when everybody else is running away.”