Crematorium might come to Stanwood

A crematory will be allowed in downtown Stanwood.

In an administrative decision Tuesday, Aug. 20, the city of Stanwood approved a crematory as part of Bill and Tari Dexter’s funeral business, American Cremation and Casket Alliance, which they plan to move from Arlington to 8808 271st St. NW, Stanwood.

Funeral homes are a listed use in Main Street Business I zoning. The city will allow the crematory as an unlisted use.

Since this was an administrative decision, anyone wanting to appeal must pay a $500 nonrefundable filing fee and also be responsible for the cost of the appeal hearing with a hearing examiner. The deadline to file an appeal is 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4.

The “Notice of Decision” is posted on the city of Stanwood’s homepage at ci.stanwood.wa.us, under Community Development on the left, click on Announcements and Notices. Look for American Cremation and Casket Alliance.

“We wanted to make sure we had the correct information out there and coming from the city,” City Administrator Jennifer Ferguson said last week. “We wanted to document all of the facts and note that there were conditions that the business would have to comply with.”

The Dexters must wait 14 days from the decision to resume work.

“I’m looking forward to getting everything up and running,” Bill Dexter said. “We plan on having an open house and welcome anyone who would like to visit. We’d love to give them a little more knowledge, so they feel better about what they see.”

City findings

According to a 59-page decision document on the city’s website, the community development director listed “Findings of Fact” to support the decision, including these excerpts.

  • First, city staff issued a zoning verification letter to the Dexters, stating that a funeral home and crematorium would be allowed under the funeral home use listed under permitted uses.

  • A crematory keeps with the purpose and intent of the Mainstreet Business I zone and is consistent with Stanwood Comprehensive Plan as a commercial service.

  • Stanwood’s definition of commercial use “means the use of any structure or property for a purpose directly related to the sale of goods or the furnishing of services of any kind.”

  • Funeral home customers can easily walk and shop at nearby stores or restaurants, meeting the intention of having pedestrian-friendly businesses.

  • Providing crematorium services is not in conflict with the city’s goals of providing a vibrant retail or pedestrian-oriented downtown.

  • The building will be improved and brought into conformance with no outdoor storage.

  • Restaurants, which are permitted, produce more odors than a crematory.

  • Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) has approved a state permit with conditions for compliance.

  • The crematory is projected to operate 2-3 days per week for 2.5-4 hours per day. Traffic impact is negligible.

  • Since a funeral home is a permitted use and crematories are commonly associated with them, it’s a reasonable and compatible use.

Permit conditions

The city placed conditions of approval on the permit.

It requires a sound board along the east wall next to the machine to lower the sound emissions 23 decibels. (A Matthews crematory sales rep likened the unit’s noise to “an air conditioner running.”)

The crematory stack will look like a standard chimney and the business will conform with PSCAA’s limitations and requirements. The applicants will make landscaping improvements.

Air quality permit

PSCAA is a regulatory agency requires the crematory operators to follow strict standards in facility operations, emission limitations, compliance, bookkeeping and reporting with conditions ensuring compliance with state law and air quality standards. Emissions are regulated for particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and opacity of visible exhaust.

PSCAA calculated the amounts of pollutants emissions from a new Matthews PPII Plus unit. Two PSCAA experts explained the results: Carole Cenci, compliance manager, and Courtney O’Gorman, engineer.

O’Gorman said the emissions table assumes the crematory would be operating at full capacity every hour, every day, in an absolute worst case scenario, which is a lot higher than the business says it plans to operate at. They calculated the amount of toxins based on the amount of the material going through the cremation.

Four pollutants at this maximum capacity level exceeded the Small Quantity Emission Rates levels: hexavalent chromium, hydrogen chloride, mercury and nitrogen dioxide. These four items were put into a computer model that simulated wind, weather, topography of this particular Stanwood location and used the worst case emissions — this time with the restrictions established for this specific permit: limits of 530,000 pounds of cremated material per year and five cases per day. Again, this is a higher rate than planned.

These emissions passed.

“Bottom line is that they have meet all the federal, state and local requirements before we issue them a permit,” Cenci said.

Bill Dexter, the applicant, said, “We’re just a small family run business, not anywhere near what emissions standards allow.”

He said his Arlington business normally processes about 420 per year, working out to one to two per day, maybe two to three days per week. He said the permit allows up to five per day.

Stanwood Mainstreet Business I

The decision’s supporting information listed other funeral homes with crematories that are located in dense urban areas including downtown core business districts, mixed-use districts and residential areas.

The decision considered zoning and noted that Mainstreet Business I zoning in east Stanwood has two distinct areas divided by 88th Avenue NW:

  • East of 88th Avenue to the railroad tracks, a “historic overlay” covers 271st Street that’s chockablock with shops in vintage buildings circa 1900s-1930s, geared for pedestrians.

  • From 88th to 90th Avenue NW, the buildings were built during a car-dominated era, 1960s and later, with big parking lots and greater distance between businesses.

The building the Dexters have leased for their business was built in 1965, prior to current zoning standards. It’s across the street from the historic overlay, so it’s within walking distance to restaurants and shops. Tru-View Glass and Window last used the site as a general construction contractor with fenced construction yard for materials and delivery vehicles. Tru-View operated as a legal nonconforming use when zoning code changed to MBI zoning, which restricted future use to commercial, service and retail business.

The Dexters have cleaned up the property, which has been vacant more than a year and eliminated the outdoor storage. They were renovating the deteriorating building when the city asked them to stop work.

The city considered crematories as a commercial service providing for the needs of the community.

Leading up to the decision

  • The Dexters purchased their Arlington funeral home business in July 2018. Because it is located on the second floor, they wanted a ground floor location that could accommodate a crematory.

  • Working with a commercial real estate agent, they located the Stanwood property. The Dexters contacted the city to be sure that a crematory would be allowed with a funeral home and on April 4 asked for written verification.

  • The city on April 5 verified the Dexters’ business — including the crematory — as a permitted use.

  • The Dexters were off and running, getting the permits they needed to remodel the building and install the crematory unit and piping. They got a state air quality permit from Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to install a Matthews PPII Plus natural gas-fired human cremation unit, specifically for the site at 8808 271st St. NW, Stanwood.

  • The administrative decision document shows that the city took a closer look at the original permit after receiving Planning Commissioner Steve Shepro’s letter, dated July 29, and a complaint on Aug. 1, suggesting that a crematory was not a classified use.

  • On Aug. 1, staff members toured a funeral home with a crematory in Everett that has operated more than a decade in a commercial/mixed-use area.
    “Adjacent neighbors were sitting on their deck eating and reading during the tour when a cremation was in process,” according to the decision document. “No smoke or odor was evident. There was no outward appearance that the crematory was in use. From the street, the facility looked like any other office or commercial building permitted in the zone.”
    Staff also observed other crematories, including Harvey’s in Seattle’s Fremont District, which is surrounded by restaurants, shops and residential units.
  • The city on Aug. 2 requested the Dexters stop work while permitting was sorted out. Meanwhile on Aug. 8, the Dexters, their friends and Stanwood residents filled the council meeting and spoke passionately, pro and con, as council members and city staff listened.

  • Aug. 20, the city announced its decision on its website.

Staff reporter Peggy Wendel: pwendel@scnews.com or 360-416-2189.

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