Madison County, GA

Large crowd says ‘No’ to crematory
Posted by Zach Mitcham in Top Stories
Monday, October 6. 2014

http://www.madisonjournaltoday.com/archives/7216-Large-crowd-says-No-to-crematory.html

Madison County commissioners heard pleas of protest in a packed room Sept. 29 over a planned crematory at a funeral home on Hwy. 29 and Booger Hill Road.

And the board of commissioners seemed moved enough by the opposition to take steps toward roadblocking those plans. The BOC will once again discuss the issue at its 6:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 6 meeting in the county government complex, where the group will likely proceed with an appeal process that could put an end to the proposal. The meeting is open to the public and will include more discussion of what legal recourse the county commissioners actually have to stop the plans.

“It’s going to come back to this table and we’re going to make it right,” commissioner Jim Escoe told the crowd.

Ivie Funeral Home plans to open a crematory at the former church turned funeral home on Booger Hill Road. The funeral home was rezoned in 2010 for business use. But there were no plans announced at that time about a crematory. County ordinances did not require the funeral home to go back through the zoning process to open a crematory, which is regulated by the state government.

Numerous Booger Hill Road residents took the podium Sept. 29 to tell board members that they felt railroaded by the proposal. They said they weren’t given any notice of the planned burning of bodies.

“I feel as a citizen this thing has been slipped in on us,” said neighboring resident Wayne Patrick, who noted that there are nine dwellings within 1,000 feet of the facility.

County commissioners voiced similar dismay, saying they didn’t know about the proposal until the past couple of weeks.

“On something like this inside our county, wouldn’t it have been common courtesy for you to come to us?” commissioner Pete Bond asked Ivie Funeral Home owner Sammy Highsmith, drawing applause from the crowd that overwhelmingly opposed the crematory.

Highsmith said he wanted to inform the residents of the plans, but he said state regulations prevent funeral homes from advertising crematories until inspections are done.

“We weren’t trying to hide this; we want people to know we have a crematory,” said Highsmith. “I wouldn’t have proposed this if I thought it was a danger to anyone or us.”

Highsmith offered a long list of crematories that already operate in Northeast Georgia. He said such facilities are not a nuisance to their neighbors and are not a health hazard.

Commission chairman Anthony Dove noted that state regulations require a 1,000-foot setback between any “stand-alone” crematory and a subdivision, but not between a crematory in a funeral home and neighboring homes. He said the 1,000-foot setback should apply to all crematories and homes.

BOC members heard repeated impassioned pleas from neighboring residents, who voiced concern for their children and other family members breathing in emissions from burning bodies or being exposed to radiation released from bodies that received radiation treatment for cancer. Highsmith said mercury emissions and radioactivity are negligible from crematories, but commissioner Stanley Thomas said the information available to the public includes a lot of contradictory viewpoints, with certain reports saying crematories present hazards to those nearby and others saying they don’t.

Residents of the area said introducing such emissions in a residential and farming area is simply not a gamble worth taking, not with the health of their families on the line. Neighboring resident Matthew English said his 7-year-old daughter loves to play outside, but that she’ll be inside if the funeral home is allowed to burn bodies next door.

A number of others said the crematory belongs in an industrial zone. They said their property values will take a massive hit since most people won’t find moving next to a crematory very appealing if they are considering purchasing a neighboring home. They said Danielsville is down-wind of the proposed crematory and residents there could face the effects. They reminded the board that the annual Christmas Luminaria is on Booger Hill Road and that new directions could include “turn at the crematory.” They said they should have been given a voice before the plans got this far.

Escoe agreed, noting that the 2010 rezoning for Ivie Funeral Home included no mention of crematories. He said no one spoke in opposition back then, but added that the room would have been packed if the plans were known then.

Booger Hill Road resident Bonnie Walker was among those who stood at the podium to urge the BOC to take a stand.

“I just think it would be a disgrace to have this on our road,” she said. “The health and safety of the people of the county should be a big deal.”

Controversial Madison County crematory plans set for hearing
By WAYNE FORD October 8, 2014 –

http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2014-10-08/controversial-madison-county-crematory-plans-set-hearing

A controversy concerning the opening of a crematory at Ivie Funeral Home in Danielsville will be addressed later this month by the Madison County Planning and Zoning Commission.
The county’s Board of Commissioners decided Monday to allow an appeal to the zoning administrator’s decision approving a permit for the crematory, according to commission Chairman Anthony Dove. The appeal will be heard at a planning and zoning meeting on Oct. 21.
Under the county’s rules, a planning administrator’s decision on a zoning issue can be appealed, Dove said.
The funeral home on Booger Hill Road received permission from the county employee in April for a crematory, a facility used to burn human bodies as an option to traditional burials. The crematory has been installed, according to the funeral home.
However, the crematory has not yet been licensed by the state and the county is withholding the final building inspection until the issue is settled, officials said.
The issue went before commissioners on Monday after local residents learned about the crematory and voiced their concerns last month.

BOC agrees to allow appeal of planned crematory on Booger Hill Road
Posted by Zach Mitcham in Top Stories
Monday, October 20. 2014

http://www.madisonjournaltoday.com/archives/7246-BOC-agrees-to-allow-appeal-of-planned-crematory-on-Booger-Hill-Road.html

A crematory is planned at Ivie Funeral Home on Booger Hill Road off Hwy. 29 just south of Danielsville, but numerous surrounding residents are adamantly against the facility.

Now, the issue will go to the county zoning board for consideration at the group’s 6:30 p.m., Oct. 21 meeting.

Madison County commissioners paved the way Monday for an appeal — and a possible rejection — of the crematory after hearing again from numerous upset Booger Hill area residents. Booger Hill Road resident George Strickland filed an appeal against the proposal Tuesday in the county planning office.

“I am filing this appeal to protect my family and citizens of Madison County from toxic incinerated vaporization that will be created by Ivie Funeral Home,” wrote Strickland in his appeal. “As well as to protect the value of Madison County property. I also would like to state that a crematory and the congestion that it would bring is not conducive to our residential area and never should have been zoned as such. After reviewing the actual facts, I feel confident that you will reconsider your decision.”

The BOC first heard pleas from area residents last week. And a large crowd packed the meeting room once again to speak against the crematory. The BOC also heard from Sammy Highsmith, owner of Ivie Funeral home in Commerce and Danielsville, as well as other funeral officials, who said the crematory is safe and well regulated.

“We wouldn’t put this in if we thought it was dangerous,” said Highsmith, who has provided materials to the BOC to show that crematories are safe.

Opponents reiterated complaints they had at last week’s meeting. The chief concern is about possible emissions from the facility. Neighbors worry that mercury and radiation will be released from burned bodies into the area, which they said is a nice residential area and not suited for a crematory. They said the facility should be located in an industrial area.

“The potential to harm our community is great,” said Pam Raines of Booger Hill Road. “There are plenty of crematories around. The only benefit of this is money in the bank for Ivie Funeral Home and that’s on our backs.”

Others spoke of the potential health effects on their children. And one Booger Hill Road resident talked about the questionable reputation Ivie Funeral Home will have after moving forward with a crematory against the wishes of surrounding residents.

“If this is pushed through, there will be a reputation hangover to it,” said Elaine Weeks of Booger Hill Road. “People will remember.”

Residents of the area voiced concern over potential radiation exposure from bodies of deceased cancer patients who had received radiation treatments. Highsmith said radiation doesn’t pose a health risk to surrounding residents.

“Radiation degrades,” said Highsmith. “If that’s not true, you couldn’t walk in the streets of Hiroshima today.

He added that crematories also ask families if their loved one had radiation treatments, which could disqualify the deceased from being cremated.
“If they say yes, then that could disqualify them from the cremation process,” said Highsmith.

But opponents countered that there are too many variables in “could disqualify” from the process. For instance, one person noted that a family could lie about the treatments or a crematory could forget to ask whether a deceased person had radiation treatments.

While the safety of the facility is a major point of contention, residents of the area have also said they feel like they were not properly informed about the plans.

County commissioners have also voiced dismay that they didn’t know about the proposed facility until about three weeks ago. They said the funeral home, which filed for a building permit for the crematory in the spring, should have made residents and the board aware of their plans. They said this would have been the neighborly thing to do.

But Highsmith’s attorney Terry Brown of Commerce said his client did everything the law requires in moving forward with the crematory.

“Ivie Funeral Home has done everything required under the law to install and operate a crematory at 42 Booger Hill Road.”

Brown also said there was nothing secretive about his client’s plans. The building permit was filed months ago and he noted that the commissioners, and anyone else, could have viewed the public records. He said it wasn’t his client’s responsibility to keep commissioners informed about what is happening in the county planning office.

“My understanding is that you gentlemen have access to building permits and you have a right to view them,” said Brown. “If you want to know about these kind of things, don’t you have some sort of obligation to check it out yourselves?”

Commissioner John Pethel said the county would have to hire another person to keep up with such records.

“Do you realize that if we did what you are saying, that we’d have to hire another person in the building inspections department so that when the commissioners come in to find out how many building permits have been issued or what kind of permits, we’d have to hire another person for another $40,000 to $50,000 a year for that department,” Pethel said to Brown.

County commissioners also heard Monday from Dick Ivey, president of the Georgia Funeral Directors Association. Ivey spoke of studies done that show crematories are safe and that emissions aren’t anymore of a threat than exhaust from cars, lawnmowers or hamburger grills. He said it would take 60,000 cremations to create one ounce of mercury.

Madison County commission chairman Anthony Dove asked Ivey why stand-alone crematories have a required 1,000-foot setback from surrounding homes, while crematories within funeral homes don’t have such a setback. Commissioner Stanley Thomas noted that one residence is just 124 feet from the funeral home.

Ivey said the setbacks were set not due to emission concerns, but because state officials didn’t want stand-alone crematories placed near homes where children could see the transport of bodies into the facility. A funeral home already has such transports.

Highsmith, who estimates that he has spent around $100,000 on the crematory in Danielsville, declined to comment Tuesday on whether he will sue if the county roadblocks his proposed crematory, referring the question to his attorney.

Brown noted Monday that the county ordinance allows for a 30-day appeal period of building permits and that the appeal period expired months ago. He said Tuesday that if the 30-day appeal period doesn’t apply, then permits issued years ago could also be appealed. He declined to say whether litigation will follow a possible rejection of the crematory.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” said Brown.

Zoning board finds no grounds for reconsideration of crematory by county gov’t
Posted by Margie Richards in Top Stories
Thursday, October 30. 2014

http://www.madisonjournaltoday.com/archives/7268-Zoning-board-finds-no-grounds-for-reconsideration-of-crematory-by-county-govt.html

A crowd showed up once again at the county complex to voice their objections to a planned crematory near their homes, but their effort to stop the facility didn’t succeed Tuesday.

Ivie Funeral Home is in the process of opening a crematory inside the funeral home (formerly a church) located on the corner of Booger Hill Road and Hwy. 29 South.

County commissioners recently sent the matter back to the zoning board to consider whether there was a basis for an appeal after a permit was issued for the crematory by the county earlier this year.

At recent meetings, the BOC and area residents have voiced dismay about not being aware of the crematory until the facility was being constructed.

After hearing from speakers for more than an hour, the commission ultimately voted that there is no basis for an appeal, since all zoning ordinance requirements were followed on the matter.

The funeral home was rezoned in 2010 for business use, following public hearings that produced no objections at the time, but there were also no plans announced at that time about a future crematory.

County ordinances did not require the funeral home to go back through the zoning process to obtain a variance to open a crematory, since it is considered a “similar use” for a funeral home, according to state law.

Planning and zoning chairman Wayne Douglas said the commission was in “totally unprecedented territory” with nothing to dictate an appeal of this sort in the county zoning ordinance.

However, he said the fact that the BOC voted to send the already approved crematory back to planning and zoning may have possibly created a “de facto change in the zoning ordinance,” which if so, would require more public hearings. He pointed out that this meeting was not a public hearing, only a meeting to consider whether an appeal to the crematory could be made under the zoning regulations.

“Permits have been issued and work done, so does the zoning ordinance allow for an appeal?” Douglas said. “I share all this to let you all know what we are looking, there are many issues to consider.”

And Douglas said that if appeals were to be allowed to be brought at any time, then he would argue that nothing is ever finalized.

He also pointed out that appeals allowed during the 30-day appeal window of zoning decisions were traditionally for the landowner and not for neighboring residents.

“We on the planning and zoning commission take (our duties) very seriously and we try to operate with integrity within the zoning ordinance,” he added.

Ivie Funeral Home attorney Terry Brown informed the commission that Ivie’s state license had been approved that day (Oct. 21). He also said that the law states that if a zoning ordinance is “vague,” it is to be construed in favor of the landowner.

“Not every funeral home has a crematory, so nobody would assume there be an incinerator at the end of our driveway,” Cheryl Walker, who lives close to Ivie Funeral Home, said.

“Vaporizing mercury into the air is a major concern for us.”

Elaine Weeks asked the planning commission to put themselves in their shoes.

“You say it’s new ground for you; it certainly is for us,” she said.

She maintained that Ivie should have let people know that they were planning on opening a crematory if they wanted to be up front and she said she felt they didn’t because they knew it would be controversial.

“It’s controversial wherever it comes up,” she said. “…They got their license today, so they could be roasting people tomorrow.”

She said funeral home representatives had said they wouldn’t ship in as many bodies as they can, but she, or others in the area, didn’t believe them.

“If it ends up in a lawsuit, so be it, if we lose we lose,” she said. The crowd responded with loud applause.
Tracy Patrick, a Madison County employee who worked in the planning and zoning office for seven years, lives near Ivie and also spoke out against the crematory.

She said she meant nothing personal toward zoning administrator Linda Fortson, but that she felt like it was an oversight on Fortson’s part.

“I think the decision was made prematurely,” she said. “We as property owners had no way to know about it.”

She said she felt Fortson should have done more research into the matter, instead of just approving it based on the zoning ordinance listing it as a similar use for the funeral home.

“We should have handled this differently,” she added. “We should have had this disclosed to us in 2010 that this was a permitted use.”

Pam Rains agreed, saying that the permit was issued by one person who did not do due diligence before approving it.

Chairman Douglas said he did not agree that Fortson had made a mistake, since state law allows for crematories to be located inside funeral homes.

“She can’t make subjective decisions, she must make objective decisions based on the law,” he said. “If it’s something that is permissible, I don’t see that the zoning administrator made a mistake.”

“Well that’s your opinion, not mine,” Rains said. Many in the room echoed her.

Booger Hill resident Autumn Strickland spoke out against it, saying that citizens would be negatively affected by the crematory, while it would be putting money in Ivie Funeral Home’s pocket.

“It has no benefit to us and it can negatively affect our health and property values,” she said.

She also added if the current zoning rules allowed this, that those rules should be changed.

“Can any of you honestly say you’d want this next door?” Strickland asked.

Zoning member Todd Higdon told Strickland that the commission could only do what the law allows and cited a personal incident in which he had been concerned about chicken houses locating next to property he owns but that nothing could be done about it, because the ordinance allowed it.

“If we’d known a crematory was part of the rezone (in 2010), we would have been here,” Booger Hill Road resident Sheila Davis said. “I am disappointed in all of you. You failed in your due diligence to protect our homes, health and property values.”

Someone in the audience murmured loudly “gutless wonders.”

Licensed funeral director and embalmer Arnold Brown, who also works for Ivie, was the lone speaker in support of the crematory.

“There’s a lot of truth in what’s been said tonight, but there’s a lot of lies been told too,” he said. He said crematories are regulated by the state, and that if the people against the crematory wanted their laws changed, they should go their senators, the funeral directors’ association, and others to get that done.

He said he had spent most of his career owning and operating a funeral home in Danielsville and in all that time had only had about a half dozen requests for cremation, as it was considered almost taboo during that time. He said now, half of Ivie’s business comes from families requesting cremation and he said it was a viable alternative to high funeral prices and a good service to be able to offer locally since many people are dying in their homes with the help of hospice services and in local nursing homes.

He pointed out that there are crematories in Elbert, Jackson, Clarke and Hart counties and that Hart County’s crematory has schools very near it. He said Baldwin has had a crematory for many years.

He said there was no smell of burning flesh from a crematory and explained some of the process, saying that temperatures inside the chamber go from 500 degrees to 1,800 degrees, which “obliterates everything.” He said the only smoke is water vapor and some smell associated with natural gas.

“Crematories are not dangerous, not hazardous,” he said.

Douglas told the crowd that planning and zoning could offer no recourse, but that their concerns could be addressed through “other avenues” such as the court system.

He said they would likely need to be able to prove the crematory is a public nuisance or a health hazard.
Douglas said he knew the commission’s decision did not make anyone happy.

“But I hope you can understand and that if the shoe was on the other foot, you’d want us to look at it the same way,” he said.

Pam Raines approached the podium one more time. “Shame on each of you,” she said.

Crematory issue to go before BOC in several weeks
Posted by Zach Mitcham in Top Stories
Monday, November 10. 2014

http://www.madisonjournaltoday.com/archives/7283-Crematory-issue-to-go-before-BOC-in-several-weeks.html

Madison County’s battle over a proposed crematory on Booger Hill Road is not over.

The county planning commission recently voted against hearing an appeal of a planned crematory at Ivie Funeral Home at the corner of Hwy. 29 and Booger Hill Road. The zoning board agreed that the funeral home met all county requirements in setting up the crematory and that there’s nothing, by law, that the county can do to stop the company.

But the county commissioners have voiced a different view at recent meetings, with some on the board saying the citizens in the area didn’t get proper notification of the funeral home’s plans. A number of Booger Hill Road area residents fear potential mercury and radioactive emissions from the facility. And BOC members have expressed some of the same concerns. Meanwhile, Ivie officials and others in the funeral home business have tried to assure residents and board members that the crematory is safe and will be strictly regulated.

The funeral home, formerly a church, was rezoned as funeral home in 2010. No plans for a crematory were announced then. But the county zoning laws allow for a crematory as a function of a funeral home. And a permit for a crematory was granted in the spring without a public hearing, since one wasn’t required.

While the zoning board voted not to award an appeal of the planned crematory, commission chairman Anthony Dove said Tuesday that those opposing the crematory have filed an appeal of the zoning board’s rejection of their appeal.

Dove said the county must wait 30 days from the zoning board’s vote. The BOC will then take up the matter again. He said he expects that to happen either when the board meets on the last Monday of November or the first Monday in December.

Though the BOC may vote on the matter in coming weeks, the final say on the matter — no matter how the board votes — could ultimately come from another room in the county government complex — the superior courtroom.

Commissioners hear again about crematory
Posted by Zach Mitcham in News
Monday, November 17. 2014

http://www.madisonjournaltoday.com/archives/7303-Commissioners-hear-again-about-crematory.html

Madison County commissioners once again heard opinions Nov. 3 about a planned crematory at Ivie Funeral Home at Hwy. 29 and Booger Hill Road.

The group took no actions on the matter at this week’s meeting, but the BOC is expected to consider the issue again at either its Nov. 24 or Dec. 1 meeting.

The county planning commission recently rejected an appeal of a building permit for the crematory issued in the spring by zoning administrator Linda Fortson. The zoning board unanimously agreed that there was no legal basis for such an appeal. However, a group seeking to stop the crematory has appealed the zoning board’s decision. And the BOC will consider the issue again at an upcoming meeting.

Planning commission chairman Wayne Douglas addressed commissioners Monday, reiterating that the planning commission found nothing in county zoning ordinances that would allow for an appeal of the permit for a crematory. He said that if he was in Fortson’s shoes, he would have done exactly as she had done and issued the permit, because it met the law’s requirements. He said a crematory, as defined by the state, is a “similar use” to a funeral home.

“We were looking strictly at the zoning ordinance and trying to uphold it,” said Douglas. “And I understand about people’s concerns. We understand all of that. But we are there to apply the zoning ordinance. And there was just no way that we could come up with that there was any standing for an appeal, that this was all done in accordance with the zoning ordinance.”

Douglas noted that permit appeals must be filed within 30 days. He said overturning the permit would mean that “nothing would be final” and that appeals could be filed on permits even after structures were in place and in use.

Two Booger Hill Road residents addressed the board at the end of the meeting to again urge the BOC to put a stop to the crematory.

Joy English of Booger Hill Road heard the BOC’s discussion earlier in the meeting of the demolition of the old tax assessor’s office, which contains asbestos. The board noted that the building was constructed before people knew of the danger of asbestos. English drew a comparison between the asbestos and the crematory.

“There’s still a lot that’s unknown (about crematories),” said English. “In the future we may be having a discussion about the emissions and how dangerous they really are.”

English again pointed out that the Booger Hill Road residents didn’t have any opportunity to make their voices known when the permit was issued. No one notified them of the plans for the crematory.

“If I had known about it, I would have been here and I fill like this whole room would have been filled up saying they do not want a crematorium,” she said.

English said the crematory failed to control the smoke when they did a test burn.

“Then how are they going to control it when there’s a body in there?” she asked. “Because it looked like the building was on fire. I almost called 911…We’re still concerned and still need your help. We’re still begging you to please do something.”

Glenda Bridges of Booger Hill Road asked how neighboring residents were supposed to be aware of the crematory to file and appeal within the required 30 days.

“If the planning and zoning administrator can issue a permit for this crematorium and the planning commission doesn’t know it and you (the commissioners) don’t know it, then how are we supposed to know it within a 30-day period to file an appeal?” asked Bridges. “We need some help, we really do, to stop this thing.”

Ivie Funeral Home employee Sam Callahan asked the commissioners for a number of incinerators already in use in the county. Board members couldn’t offer him an answer.

Callahan pointed out that there is a functioning incinerator at the animal shelter off Colbert-Danielsville Road near his house. He said there’s one at the animal testing lab off Colbert Grove Church Road.

“There’s not one at any of the chicken houses approved by this commission?” asked Callahan. “Is there not?”

“Well, they (incinerators) aren’t in subdivisions,” said an audience member.

“I heard they comment behind me that they aren’t in subdivisions,” said Callahan. “Well, I live on Colbert-Danielsville Road and there’s more houses around the animal shelter than there is on Booger Hill Road.”

He said there’s mercury in tuna and that tuna is put in catfood and dog food.

“Where are those animals incinerated at?” he asked.

Commission chairman Anthony Dove said most of the animals are buried at the shelter, not cremated.

Callahan said there’s a lot of misinformation spreading about the crematory.

“There’s a lot of uneducated people who keep complaining about Ivie having the crematory over there,” said Callahan. “They lack the time to seek the education, I suppose. Your personal opinion gets in the way of what’s so and what’s not so….Am I against the crematory, no? Why, because I’ve done research.”

Callahan said that as an Ivie Funeral Home employee, he will actually be placing bodies into the crematory and that if anyone would suffer effects from emissions, it would be him.

“I’m going to be one of the ones standing there and opening the doors and cremating the bodies,” he said. “If there was a chance of radiation or mercury poisoning, I would be the one getting it, because I would be the closest one to it. I just ask the citizens of Booger Hill Road, do the research, truly and thoroughly, and don’t say it’s against religious rights, cause if you read the Bible, it’s not in there.”

“I don’t think there was any discussion of religious rights,” said Dove.

“We just want to breathe,” said one audience member.

BOC expresses dismay on crematory issue
Posted by Zach Mitcham in Top Stories
Monday, December 1. 2014

http://www.madisonjournaltoday.com/archives/7330-BOC-expresses-dismay-on-crematory-issue.html

Madison County commissioners spoke at length with county planning leaders Nov. 14 about what went wrong with the recent crematory controversy. And they talked about changes they’d like to see in the planning and building inspection offices.

Board of commission members said they want to avoid situations in the future in which they — and the public — are “blindsided” by matters that arise without public hearings. Commissioners were unaware of a planned crematory at Ivie Funeral Home at the intersection of Hwy. 29 and Booger Hill Road until residents near the funeral home brought the matter to their attention.

County zoning administrator Linda Fortson approved a permit for the funeral home for the crematory in the spring, but leaders didn’t learn of the plans until six months later, after the funeral home installed the crematory and burned wood in the structure that had been used in transporting the equipment, which alarmed a neighboring resident, who began speaking out about the funeral home’s plans.

Over the past couple of months, numerous residents of the area have spoken against the crematory, citing concerns over emissions and radiation hazards. But funeral home leaders and others in the funeral services industry have sought to ease residents’ worries, saying there are numerous crematories in the area and that such facilities don’t pose health hazards.

Planning commission chairman Wayne Douglas addressed commissioners once again Nov. 14 about the crematory. He said he didn’t feel a controversial matter slipping through without a public hearing would be a common occurrence under the county’s zoning ordinance.

“I think this was a one-in-a-million occurrence,” said Douglas.

Douglas explained that the proposed crematory at the funeral home was deemed a “similar use” for a funeral home, meaning a permit was granted without a public hearing because the state government recognizes cremation as a common function of funeral homes. A rezoning was approved for Ivie Funeral Home in 2010, but no mention was made at that time of a crematory.

Both commissioners and residents of the Booger Hill Road area have said the issue deserved a public hearing, and the BOC allowed a local resident to file an appeal of the crematory with the planning commission. But the zoning board voted that there was no basis for an appeal, since the funeral home met all county requirements in applying for the permit and the 30-day deadline for objecting to the permit had passed.

Douglas said working to ensure that no one is caught off guard by plans in the future is a good idea, but he said the Ivie Funeral Home crematory issue is settled and can’t be revisited under the county zoning ordinance as currently written. He said that if the crematory can be appealed, the all permits passed at any time can be appealed.

“It means everything is still open and subject to appeal,” he said. “The ordinance must have some point where something is final.”
Commissioners said the situation must not happen again. District 1 board members Stanley Thomas pointed out that there have been crematory battles in other areas in Georgia, but he said those controversies went before a board or council.

“In our situation, we had no clue for six months,” he said.

Board members agreed that future proposed crematories need “conditional use permits,” which include public hearings. Commission chairman Anthony Dove also said it would be good to have building permits published in The Madison County Journal on a regular basis.

Fortson has faced considerable criticism from board members and the public for not making the crematory plans known. But she has said the applicant met the county’s requirements and the state oversees crematory regulation. Douglas has backed Fortson, saying he would have handled the matter in the same way.

On Nov. 14, commissioner Mike Youngblood questioned Fortson on several matters. He said that he has repeatedly asked Fortson to notify him when there are zoning issues in his district and that she has failed to do so. He said he went by the zoning office in the county government complex recently and found a note on the door. He said no county office should have a note on the door for the public. Fortson is the only person working in the office now. He said Fortson should have coordinated with the building inspection office to have someone in the office while she was gone. But he said he’d like to see the building inspection and planning offices combined into one department with one director and one entrance.

Youngblood said he doesn’t understand why Fortson arrives at work at 7:30 in the morning and he questioned her compensation time. He asked her if she had been in the office on a Saturday to decorate her office, and she said she had, but without pay. He told her that was illegal. Fortson said she has worked to do two jobs since the planning office staff was reduced from two to one. Douglas told board members that he was available to help out some in the zoning office if needed.

Crematory issue unresolved; funeral home’s disposal of fluids now a focus
Posted by Zach Mitcham in Top Stories
Thursday, December 4. 2014

http://www.madisonjournaltoday.com/archives/7342-Crematory-issue-unresolved;-funeral-homes-disposal-of-fluids-now-a-focus.html

A planned crematory at Ivie Funeral Home has been the source of controversy in Madison County for months. But the conflict took another turn Nov. 24, with the business’s disposal of embalming fluids becoming a focal point.

County officials say the funeral home is putting embalming fluids in its septic system in violation of state law, while the funeral home’s attorney says county leaders know they’ve lost the crematory battle and are simply looking for another way to thwart the funeral home’s plans.

“We’ve reached a point where I’m going to strongly recommend that we stop all this nonsense,” said Terry Brown, attorney for Ivie Funeral Home, who added that the funeral home is “tired of being jerked around” and is “extremely close” to litigation.
No funeral home representatives were on hand Monday, but Tommy Cowart, who owns the funeral home property, took the podium and said he felt the funeral home, which is located at the intersection of Hwy. 29 and Booger Hill Road, had been unfairly targeted by the county regarding its septic system. He asked if all businesses were treated that way.

“Are you going to ask other businesses to check their septic tank or are we just singled out?” asked Cowart.

County commission chairman Anthony Dove said someone contacted the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) about the funeral home’s septic system. And the EPD then contacted the county.

Booger Hill Road resident Wayne Patrick contacted The Journal Nov. 25 to say that he was the one who contacted the EPD about the funeral home’s septic practices. Patrick and his family live about 600 feet from the funeral home. He noted that nine homes are within 1,000 feet of the business.

Commissioner Stanley Thomas said that the county responds to complaints about businesses and was not singling out Ivie Funeral Home.

Thomas noted that there is a private water well within 100 feet of the funeral home’s septic system. He asked Cowart how he’d feel about drinking water from a well so close to a system that handled embalming fluids.

“Would you drink water out of a fountain if you knew it was 100 feet away from embalming fluids?” asked Thomas.

Cowart said the funeral home is safe and that the embalming process, which began at the funeral home in 2010, involves smaller quantities of fluid than many would expect. He said people put all sorts of things in septic systems.

“We’re not endangering anyone’s health,” he said, adding that the funeral home hasn’t done anything wrong.

“Yes they have; they’ve put fluids in the ground that weren’t supposed to be there,” said Dove.

Cowart said that once the funeral home was notified that their disposal of embalming fluids wasn’t in line with EPD regulations, they moved to take corrective action.

“Whatever they (the EPD) say, we’ll take care of it,” said Cowart.

But Thomas said the funeral home operators should have known better and should have gotten it right from the beginning.

“They should have known when they put that in how they should be disposing of those fluids,” said Thomas.

Dove said the improper disposal of embalming fluids may never have been discovered without the ongoing controversy of a planned crematory at the funeral home.

“Y’all could have done that for years and no one would have ever known and that could have been bad,” he said.

Thomas asked how residents of the area could trust the funeral home with a crematory if the business was unaware of how it should dispose of embalming fluids. He added that such disposal problems can be grounds for a revocation of a licensing.

“After this happens, why should people feel secure about the crematory, when for four years that’s been going on?” asked Thomas.

Booger Hill Road Road resident Joy English, who has been outspoken against the proposed crematory, echoed Thomas’ statement.

“Not knowing (how to dispose of fluids) is not a good excuse,” said English, who asked how residents are supposed to trust the funeral home with a crematory.

Cowart said Madison County taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for any legal expenses if the county fights the funeral home over the crematory. Instead, he said Booger Hill Road opponents of the crematory should foot the bill, since the funeral home met all legal requirements in applying for a permit for the crematory.

He said it wasn’t the funeral home’s fault that commissioners weren’t aware of what happened in its zoning office. And he said zoning administrator Linda Fortson has been unfairly scapegoated for simply doing her job and granting a permit for the crematory, which was allowed under the law and under county ordinances.

Cowart called the recent septic issue to “harassment,” but commissioner John Pethel said looking out for public health doesn’t constitute harassment.

Earlier in the meeting, Dove asked county commissioners if they wanted to consider the crematory matter at their Monday, Dec. 1 meeting, but Pethel said he’d like to have word from the EPD before taking the issue up again. The county has yet to issue a certificate of occupancy (CO) for the crematory.

Cowart urged the board to make a decision, one way or the other, on the crematory.

“This thing has drug on long enough,” he said. “Just draw a line in the sand and make a decision.”

Ivie Funeral Home owner Sammy Highsmith was not at the Nov. 24 meeting. He referred questions to his attorney.

Brown said it’s common practice for funeral homes to dispose of embalming fluids in septic systems. He said the county’s building inspection office approved the septic system for disposal of the waste.

“It’s another example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing in Madison County,” he said.

Madison County Chief Building Inspector director Eddie Pritchett wasn’t in the office Nov. 25 and couldn’t be contacted for comment. But he submitted a statement Dec. 1 on the issue.

“Let me clarify that the building inspection department does not approve septic systems,” wrote Pritchett. “That is done through the health department. The health department issues an installation report for all new systems on all new construction. If a system is existing and there is an increase in occupancy or has been out of use for an extended time, then an updated letter would be required from the health department. In the case of the Ivie Funeral Home an update on the septic was required in 2012 based on the occupancy load and a new addition. The county was unaware of any improper disposal of waste. Since funeral homes are licensed by the state, we assume that all regulations with regards to disposal of waste is done properly.”

Dove disputed Brown’s assertion that the county gave the OK for disposal of embalming fluids in the septic system. He said that either way, it was wrong, according to state law.

Brown said “to avoid any further clamoring or any potential additional litigation” that the funeral home is installing a storage tank for the embalming fluids, which will be disposed of out of Madison County.

The funeral home informed the state Nov. 19 that within 30 days they would “install a separate tank to receive all liquids from our preparation room and have those fluids professionally removed from Madison County.”

Brown said the septic issue was simply a tactic to fight the crematory.

“When Mr. Dove saw that the efforts to stop the crematory weren’t going as planned, he jumped on a side issue,” said Brown.

Dove said the county doesn’t “go out and target anyone,” but he said if a matter is brought up to the county, then they will investigate it. He said in this case, a neighboring resident reported the septic issue to the state and then the EPD contacted the county.

Funeral home files suit against county for roadblocking crematory
Posted by Zach Mitcham in Top Stories
Monday, December 15. 2014

http://www.madisonjournaltoday.com/archives/7357-Funeral-home-files-suit-against-county-for-roadblocking-crematory.html

A battle over a whether Ivie Funeral Home can operate a crematory on Booger Hill Road has entered a new venue — a courtroom.

Ivie Funeral Home, which operates out of Commerce and Danielsville, filed suit in Madison County Superior Court against county commission chairman Anthony Dove and county chief building inspector Eddie Pritchett Dec. 4.

No hearing date has been set.

The action follows months of debate in the commissioners’ meeting room about a proposed crematory in the funeral home at the intersection of Hwy. 29 and Booger Hill Road. A number of residents of the area have adamantly opposed the plans, voicing concerns over emissions and radiation from burning bodies. Meanwhile, Ivie officials have repeatedly said that the crematory won’t pose a health hazard and that they’ve met all necessary legal requirements to operate the facility.

Ivie Funeral Home attorney Terry Brown wrote in the Dec. 4 complaint that Dove ordered Pritchett not to issue a final permit for the crematory and that there was no legal basis for the delay.

“The Plaintiffs stand to suffer irreparable injury, harm and loss unless this Court intervenes to require Defendant Eddie Pritchett to fulfill his official duties and approve the final permit authorizing the operation of a crematory at Ivie without interference from the Defendant Anthony Dove,” wrote Brown.

The commissioners recently postponed any action on the crematory. And a resident near the funeral home recently notified the Environmental Protection Division of the home’s disposal of embalming fluids in its septic system, a practice county officials said was not in line with state law. The funeral home agreed to install a holding tank and dispose of the fluids out of the county. Commissioners and neighboring residents questioned whether the funeral home could be trusted to run a crematory if it wasn’t properly disposing of embalming fluids.

Brown countered that Ivie’s disposal of fluids is in line with other funeral homes and that county officials were simply seeking a new way to thwart the funeral home’s plans when they realized they couldn’t win the crematory fight.

“When Mr. Dove saw that the efforts to stop the crematory weren’t going as planned, he jumped on a side issue,” said Brown.

Dove said the septic issue could have gone on for years without anyone knowing if the crematory mattered hadn’t surfaced. He said he believes the fight over the crematory has run its course between the funeral home and the BOC and that a legal resolution seemed inevitable.

“Unfortunately, after the meeting the other night and the revelation of the septic issues, we are probably at an impasse,” said Dove. “So we’ll have to turn it over to our legal counsel now.”

Two could be stripped of dept. head status
Posted by Zach Mitcham in Top Stories
Sunday, December 21. 2014

http://www.madisonjournaltoday.com/archives/7359-Two-could-be-stripped-of-dept.-head-status.html

Excerpt:

Fortson has drawn considerable criticism in recent months from board members and citizens in the Booger Hill Road community. She issued a permit for a crematory at Ivie Funeral Home in the spring, noting that the plans complied with local and state guidelines. Many critics have said Fortson should have notified other officials and the public when that permit was issued. It was nearly six months before the plans for the crematory were widely known. However, those who have supported Fortson have said the permit was public record and that anyone, including the commissioners, could have visited the planning office and seen what was in the works.

But Thomas and Youngblood said Thursday that the proposed changes in the planning and building inspections offices have nothing to do with the crematory issue.

Madison County crematory lawsuit set for February hearing
By WAYNE FORD January 7, 2015

http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2015-01-05/madison-county-crematory-lawsuit-set-february-hearing

A specially appointed judge is expected to hear arguments on Feb. 9 in a civil lawsuit that arose from a crematory controversy in Madison County.
Ivie Funeral Home filed the lawsuit in December after the county officials denied the business a final permit to operate the crematory.
The crematory was installed at the business off Booger Hill Road after the owners received a permit from the county in April for the construction. However, when citizens living near the facility learned about the crematory when it was being tested they sought to have the permit rescinded, officials said. A final permit was not issued while an appeal was made, according to reports.
Ivie’s attorney filed the suit against Madison County Commission Chairman Anthony Dove and County Building Inspector Eddie Pritchett.
Three judges in the Northern Judicial Circuit have recused themselves from the case due to a conflict of interest, so a special judge, Senior Judge Stephen Boswell of Clayton County, was appointed to hear the case.
Sharon Highsmith, who owns the funeral home with her husband, Sammy, said Monday that she expects some depositions to occur prior to the upcoming hearing, which could result in a final decision.
Residents of the area say they are concerned about emissions from the crematory, which burns human bodies as an option to a traditional burial.
In November, a citizen also alerted the State Environmental Protection Division that embalming fluid was being dumped directly into the funeral home’s septic tank. Ivie told officials it will now install a special holding tanks for those fluids.

Two stripped of department head status
Posted by Zach Mitcham in Top Stories
Friday, January 16. 2015

http://www.madisonjournaltoday.com/archives/7420-Two-stripped-of-department-head-status.html

Madison County commissioners stripped two county employees of their department-head status and reduced their pay Jan. 5, while making several changes in the planning and zoning and building inspections offices.

Linda Fortson of the planning and zoning department and Eddie Pritchett of the building inspections office are no longer department heads. That status was removed by the county commissioners by a 5-0 vote.

Crematory hearing set for Feb. 6
Posted by Staff Writer in News
Wednesday, February 4. 2015

http://www.madisonjournaltoday.com/archives/7452-Crematory-hearing-set-for-Feb.-6.html

A hearing on a proposed crematory at Ivie Funeral Home in Madison County is set for 9 a.m., Friday, Feb. 6, in Madison County Superior Court.

The funeral home, which operates out of Commerce and Danielsville, filed suit against county commission chairman Anthony Dove and former county chief building inspector Eddie Pritchett Dec. 4 for not issuing a final permit for operation of the crematory.

The lawsuit followed months of debate in the commissioners’ meeting room about a proposed crematory in the funeral home at the intersection of Hwy. 29 and Booger Hill Road. A number of residents of the area have adamantly opposed the plans, voicing concerns over emissions and radiation from burning bodies. Meanwhile, Ivie officials have repeatedly said that the crematory won’t pose a health hazard and that they’ve met all necessary legal requirements to operate the facility.

The judges in the Northern Judicial Circuit recused themselves from the lawsuit. So, the case will be heard by Senior Superior Court Judge Stephen E. Boswell from Clayton County.

No ruling issued in crematory hearing Friday
Posted by Zach Mitcham in Top Stories
Friday, February 6. 2015

http://www.madisonjournaltoday.com/archives/7470-No-ruling-issued-in-crematory-hearing-Friday.html

Arguments for and against a planned crematory on Booger Hill Road were made in by attorneys in Madison County Superior Court Friday morning, but no ruling was issued.

Judge Stephen Boswell of Clayton County asked both parties in the suit to file proposed orders with him by Feb. 16. And a ruling on the matter will follow, though Boswell offered no time frame for the decision. Bowell is hearing the case, since Northern Judicial Circuit Superior Court judges all recused themselves from the matter.

Ivie Funeral Home has installed a crematory unit in its facility on Booger Hill Road just off Hwy. 29 south of Danielsville. The crematory has been the focus of considerable opposition by neighboring residents, who fear emissions and radiation from burning bodies at the site. But funeral home officials say the crematory poses no health risks to residents.

Funeral home owner Sammy Highsmith filed suit late in 2014 against county commission chairman Anthony Dove and former chief building inspector Eddie Pritchett. Ivie Funeral Home attorney Terry Brown contends Dove was wrong to stop Pritchett from issuing a final certificate of occupancy (CO) for the crematory, adding that the funeral home met every lawful requirement. The funeral home is asking that the court force the county to issue a CO for the crematory or to eliminate the need for a CO altogether.

Meanwhile, attorney Phil Friduss of Woodstock, who is representing Dove and Pritchett, said the matter comes down to one issue: Is a crematory included in the definition of a funeral home? He contended Friday that a crematory and a funeral home should be considered as separate entities, adding that under the county’s zoning laws, the proposed crematory is not appropriate at Ivie Funeral Home. Brown maintained the opposite, that crematories are a normal function of funeral homes and should be allowed.

— See a more in depth story in the Feb. 12 issue of The Madison County Journal.

Judge OKs crematory
Posted by Zach Mitcham in Top Stories
Monday, March 16. 2015

http://www.madisonjournaltoday.com/archives/7531-Judge-OKs-crematory.html

Ivie Funeral Home can operate a crematory at its Booger Hill Road location.

After months of debate, a judge ruled this month that the county government has no legal standing to roadblock a crematory at the Danielsville business. A number of residents in the area adamantly opposed the plans, citing concerns about emissions and radiation from burning bodies. But funeral home officials said the crematory will be safe.

Zoning administrator Linda Fortson approved a permit for the crematory last spring, but county commissioners, who said they weren’t notified of the permit, stalled the funeral home’s plans this past fall. County commission chairman Anthony Dove ordered former chief building inspector Eddie Pritchett not to grant a certificate of occupancy (CO) for the crematory until the BOC voted on the matter. In the meantime, the funeral home filed suit against Dove and Pritchett, saying there was no legal basis for denying the CO.

Judge Stephen Boswell ruled in favor of the funeral home this month.

Funeral home owner Sammy Highsmith said Tuesday that he is unsure when the home will start cremations, adding that he wants to go over the ruling with his attorney.

“I’m not sure when will get going; I haven’t talked to my attorney about that,” said Highsmith.
The ruling included no demands for legal fees or any financial compensation from the county to the funeral home. Asked if he may pursue any such compensation, Highsmith said he hasn’t considered it yet.

“I haven’t given any thought to that yet,” said Highsmith.

The funeral home owner said cremations are becoming more prevalent in the U.S. and he said his business will conduct the service safely.

“The crematory is safe and we will not do anything to harm the community or ourselves,” he said.
Dove issued a statement March 10 on the ruling.

“According to the judge’s ruling, the deal was done upon approval and granting of the permit,” said Dove. “I understand the disappointment and concerns of the people in that part of our community (around Ivie Funeral Home). I also understand the judge’s ruling of the vested rights of Ivie being issued a permit and spending funds on that assurance. It is a very unfortunate situation and set of circumstances. Many times zoning issues and building codes can grant rights, but they can sometimes take away rights as well.”

Dove responded March 10 to a request from the Journal for a total figure on the county’s legal fees related to the crematory suit.

As of March 10, the county government had received two invoices from Landrum, Friduss and Ash LLC, the law firm representing the county, for a total of $14,723.09.

Judge’s ruling clears way for opening of crematory in Danielsville
By WAYNE FORD March 20, 2015

http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2015-03-18/judges-ruling-clears-way-opening-crematory-danielsville

A Superior Court judge recently ruled that Ivie Funeral Home in Danielsville can operate its crematory despite challenges by Madison County officials and nearby residents.
The county’s zoning administrator initially issued the crematory permit to the funeral home on March 31, 2014, but county officials later withheld a final permit after some residents near the funeral home protested. The funeral home subsequently filed a lawsuit against Commission Chairman Anthony Dove and Chief Building Inspector Eddie Pritchett.
Senior Judge Stephen Boswell of Clayton County issued his order March 9 that allows for the crematory to open.
Ivie Funeral Home owner Sammy Highsmith said this week he didn’t immediately know when operations might start at the crematory.
“I’ve got to consult with (our attorney) before I make a statement about something I’m not sure about,” Highsmith said.
“We just maintain the crematory is safe … that’s the only message that is in my heart. We wouldn’t operate a crematory if we thought it was harmful to us or the community.”
The crematory garnered controversy only after nearby residents learned of its existence. Residents expressed concern that emissions emanating from the facility might prove harmful and they approached county officials, who withheld a final permit for its operation.
Ivie responded by filing a lawsuit in December.
The court ruled that “the zoning certification issued to the plaintiffs was valid and that the plaintiffs should be authorized to operate the installed cremation machine.”
The judge also noted that the zoning administrator had the responsibility of interpreting the ordinance and could conclude that a crematory was included in the term “funeral home,” as the state Legislature has defined funeral service to include cremation.

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