A burning controversy

When last discussed before Asheville City Council, the prospect of a pet crematory next to an incoming condominium project left some Council members queasy.

Back to back: The field behind this Forest Lawn entrance is the future home of the Main Street at Enka Village, a mixed-use development by Tony Fraga’s FIRC Group. Photo by Jonathan Welch

But since that Jan. 27 meeting, when the owners of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park agreed to table their rezoning request rather than have it struck down by Council (see “Well Recuuuuuuse Me!,” Feb. 4 Xpress), the animal-care community, cemetery owners and pet lovers in general have rallied in support of the incineration idea.

“We do have petitions out,” says Anna DeSimon, owner of the Arden Animal Hospital. “I think it would be a good idea.”

For Patrick Bradley, who works at the cemetery located at the boundary of Asheville and Candler, the fight for a crematory is not over. Though not yet scheduled for a return to Council chambers, he anticipates bringing the issue back sometime in March.

Bradley’s plans involve a pet cemetery and an adjacent crematory that shares a building containing a sitting room, a receptionist’s office and a viewing room (the only other crematory in the area has no viewing room, and some in the animal industry say bereaved pet owners are traveling to Greenville, S.C., to cremate their animals). The cemetery itself would have walking paths and a “scatter garden” for scattering the ashes of deceased pets.

Bradley, standing by a maintenance shed at the southeast corner of the funeral grounds, sweeps his hand across the lawn in anticipation of the tribute to beloved animals. “We want everything just like we [planned it], because it makes sense,” he said.

But behind that maintenance shed looms the problem: a hillside that is the intended site of a mixed-use development called Main Street at Enka Village, planned by Tony Fraga’s FIRC Group. If the crematory is sited where Bradley would like it, it would be directly beneath the balconies of the development’s condominiums. Even with the state-of-the-art and highly regulated crematory that Bradley says produces less smoke than a fireplace, FIRC attorney Rick Jackson says its presence would dramatically affect the ability to sell the condos.

The plot thickens: Patrick Bradley of Forest Lawn Memorial Park plans to add a pet cemetery and crematory, but its proximity to a planned condominium development has raised temperatures. Photo by Jonathan Welch

“I think there is definitely a psychological factor involved,” Jackson says, noting that there are other places on the Forest Lawn property to put the crematory. “That was basically our resolve,” he says. “If you could put it somewhere else besides next to our high-density condo development, we would appreciate it.”

Bradley admits that he could locate the crematory on the other side of the grounds, but that would separate it from the pet cemetery and create the need for two buildings on either side of the 38.8-acre property. The location of the pet cemetery itself, he says, is dictated by a North Carolina Cemetery Association rule that says animal cemeteries must be separated from human ones. He would like to see the entire pet wing of Forest Lawn combined. And, he says, there are serious misconceptions as to the scale, design and impact of the crematory. “No one would even know its there,” he said.

It looks like the next time Forest Lawn’s proposal goes to Council, it will be backed by the animal-advocacy community. DeSimon says she has nearly 50 signatures on her petition alone, Bradley has another copy that is filled with signatures, and other copies are floating around in the community. And when word got out that Xpress was working on this story, the phone started ringing with calls from supporters of the crematory, indicating that this particular idea is not yet up in smoke.

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