The Morgan County Planning Commission is considering a conditional use permit for Elysium Pet Services, an animal crematorium that hopes to set up shop near the Mountain Green Airport.
According to planning commission documents, applicant Steve Ford is seeking to set up a small retail store and pet crematorium at 4090 W. 5800 N., unit C, next to Rosehill Diary, an exercise facility, dance studio, dental implant business and syrup manufacturer.
At the time Ford applied, this use was allowed under newly adopted Morgan County codes that identify it as a “food-products manufacturing use.” However, county land use maps didn’t specify where in the county such a use could be physically located.
The council changed the conditional use table on Feb. 2, and Ford submitted his application on Feb. 8.
“The cow is out of the barn on this one,” Planning Commissioner Debbie Sessions said at a Feb. 25 meeting. “It wasn’t an allowed use in this area until the first of February when the code was changed to allow it. It is now an allowed use” in the business park zone. However, when the county council adopted new land uses allowed in certain zones, it did not adopt a land use map designating where those zones were.
The planning commission voted unanimously to postpone a decision on the application until April 14, which may allow the County Council time to formally adopt land use maps.
County officials may also reconsider allowing crematoriums in business zones. The county council also has the ability to deny Elysium’s conditional use application, even if the planning commission recommends approval.
“If a crematorium is outside of something we have anticipated, we allow the one that has applied because he is vested, and close the door on future crematoriums,” County Planner Bill Cobabe said. “We wouldn’t have accepted this application under the old code.”
The planning commission has the power to place conditions on the application that would mitigate the potential impact on adjacent properties. Only if mitigation is not possible can the commission deny the application, Cobabe said.
A planning commission staff report noted that the crematorium business would be limited in scale, employing up to four people, the proposed facility would not adversely impact the adjacent properties and “any potential impact on the existing neighborhood would be minimal.”
But Mountain Green residents living in a nearby subdivision disagree. They are concerned with odors and air pollution that could potentially come from the 2 million BTU afterburner.
“There is no entity that monitors or controls permits for odor,” said Darren Hawks, part-owner in a wastewater treatment plant who also lives in the subdivision neighboring the proposed crematorium. “When there is an odor issue and complaint, it is too late. At that point, it is up to them being a good neighbor. It is almost a Band-Aid approach. I don’t want to be chasing a Band-Aid and trying to get a problem solved that shouldn’t have been there to begin with.”
Mark Howell, who lives 200 yards away from the site, said the location is too close to residential areas both neighboring and uphill, including the Fox Hollow and Cottonwoods subdivisions. “There is a ton of development going on. This is an inappropriate place,” Howell said. “The perfect place is an industrial area.”
The land in question is zoned “commercial buffer,” not the newer “business park” that contains the allowed use. But none of these are industrial, residents noted.
“There’s got to be a smell. Just burning gas will put pollution in the air. It concerns me to have one that close to residential. I don’t think anyone in here would want one next to their house. If we get it going and it stinks, what do we do?” asked Russell Nance, who lives two blocks away from the proposed site. “Do we have any recourse?”
That is the same question many residents in Ogden Valley are asking, said Derek Stanbridge. “A crematorium operating in that area caters to butcher shops, road kill, and sick animals such as horses and cattle. It is a major production. They are shipping in these animals in large amounts. They are laying outside stacked in piles. Residents are signing petitions trying to get rid of this group and the smells for two miles around, and they can’t get rid of it,” Stanbridge said.
“Personally, I came to this valley from South Ogden to be in a place that has clean air. The last thing I want to do is smell burning animals. I have major concerns.”
Concerns also include particulates, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, sulfur and nitrogen oxide.
“You can’t see toxins and chemicals. Nobody is addressing toxins and chemicals,” said Melinda Patterson, who lives in the 25-home subdivision with 60 children near the site. “Who would enforce and monitor the air quality?”
That indeed seems to be the question everyone is asking, not just about the proposed pet crematorium, but also regarding numerous gravel pits spread throughout the county.
“We need to update standards,” Sessions said. “It is in our standards to control objectionable odors” but without specific language. She noted it is also within county standards to require an environmental impact study and assessment.
Tina Kelley—a former Morgan County Council Chairwoman and current citizen representative on the Weber Morgan Health Board—said the state handles complaints on emissions and the county should handle the issue through the permit process.
In a March 1 meeting, County Councilwoman Tina Cannon said the county does not have a particulates standard, and no structure in place to actually monitor them. “We knew we are weak in that area,” she said. “They are cracking down on crematoriums along the Wasatch Front. It is not a surprise they are looking to come here. They build here knowing we will never check. This will be the first of many. We have a problem and there is no fast solution.”
“The particulate matter is a valid concern,” Cobabe said. “But does the county want to become the monitoring program for particulate emissions in the county? Code enforcement is complaint-driven, a hiss and byword in the county. Does the county expend resources to monitor that kind of thing?”
County Council Chairman Logan Wilde agreed.
“I am not sure the county wants to get into air quality. I am not sure statutorily we can get into it,” he said. “We would be making conditions to something we can’t monitor.”
Cobabe noted that state and federal regulating agencies can monitor pollutants, and violations of state and federal thresholds would be grounds to shut down a business.
Ford said planning commissioners are welcome to visit his current crematorium business in Clearfield to see that all work is self-contained and nothing is stored outside the building. He burns only about one to two days per week for eight hours each day, or less than 12 hours a week. He plans to operate his business within Morgan County six days a week from 7 a.m.to 10 p.m.
Sessions warned that the commission may have a problem with those operating hours because it is so close to homes. However, the county lacks a specific time standard in its code.
He explained that the reason he plans to leave his Davis County location, where he has a valid two-year lease, is because the neighboring veterinarian needs the space to expand.
He would also like to expand beyond his current 800-square foot production space that lacks office space, he said. He would like a place to complete paper work and greet customers purchasing mementos such as paw print casts of their deceased pets.
“It is a misconception that this is a dirty type of an operation. With today’s technology, it is quite clean and efficient,” assured Ford, claiming emissions from the crematorium would be less than those emitted by a typical diesel truck. “There is not a lot of noise. There’s no odor emitted. I am not even going to be bothering the people in the units next to me.”
In fact, his neighbor of six years living 200 feet away from his current commercially-zoned location wrote a letter for commission consideration claiming no odors or problems. Ford said he has never had a complaint or violation of any sort, including air quality.
Ford services half a dozen vet clinics and stores carcasses in chest freezers until they are incinerated.
Ford said crematoriums are common: one in Farmington near a school and three others in Ogden. He has a small source exemption for one natural gas-fired cremation machine for animal remains from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality Division of Air Quality issued for his Clearfield location in 2012. He would seek a new exemption in Morgan County once his business was up and going, he said.
He said Mountain Green is a desirable place to conduct business, especially for him. He has a daughter attending Morgan High School and a son buried in the county.
“I have lived up here before, and I plan on moving up here again someday,” Ford said.