A pet crematorium will be coming to Mountain Green after the Morgan County Planning Commission and Morgan County Council played political hot potato with the issue. In a rare move, the county council went against a unanimous planning commission recommendation to deny and granted Elysium Pet Services a conditional use permit, which will enable the business near the airport.
Listed Morgan County conditional uses didn’t include allowing pet crematoriums, until Feb. 2. The planning commission recommended expanding conditional uses in Morgan County, something the Morgan County Council agreed to when it voted to accept the changes. At the time, the council said it was a move that could be seen as becoming more business friendly.
In what some say was an error, the county council failed to adopt an accompanying map that displayed where in the county those conditional uses would be permitted. So, although more uses were theoretically allowed in the county, in some cases there was literally nowhere a business could locate to actually take part in those new uses.
The planning commission and county council were alerted to the fact that they changed the ordinance without changing the map and started to make steps to rectify the discrepancy. In the meantime, Steve Ford applied for a pet crematorium on Feb. 8 to be located in a commercial buffer zone near Mountain Green’s airport.
Technically, at the time Ford applied, the pet crematorium was a permitted use under the newly adopted business park zoning designation as well as in light manufacturing and industrial areas. However, his place of business was not on the map as a business park location where this use could take place. He was officially stuck in no-man’s land.
On first blush Feb. 25, the planning commission recommended granting Ford the conditional use permit since it was a newly permitted use. They suggested a few conditions such as exhaust emission should be kept within state regulated guidelines, no deliveries to the front of the building, cremations could take place five or fewer times each week, business was not to be conducted outside the building, and the exterior of the building should be kept in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
But later on, when the planning commission discovered the error, or lack of a map, the planning commission’s chair recommended the county council roll back their original decision to accept the new ordinance until the map could be adopted alongside it. The commission later unanimously recommended denial and reimbursement to Ford of his application fee.
“There is no place designated as BP (business park) on the current zoning map,” County Planner Bill Cobabe said. “That is the hang-up, confusion and reason for voting for denial. A new zoning map has never been officially adopted.”
The county council did not repeal their initial decision to approve the new ordinance, referring it back to be “completed” through the planning commission, which was and still is working on the maps, County Councilwoman Tina Cannon said.
Council members Daryl Ballantyne, John Barber, Robert Kilmer and Austin Turner voted to issue the CUP to Elysium Pet Services May 3. Cannon and Ned Mecham voted to deny the conditional use permit.
“The council decision to ignore a unanimous vote of the planning commission is wrong,” Cannon told The Morgan County News after the meeting. “Ignoring county code to cover for the mistakes of county employees and officials who don’t understand the ramifications of their votes is also wrong. If I didn’t make that clear in my vote and on the record, I am doing so now. If my saying this means I ‘put myself at legal risk,’ so be it.”
Kilmer said his vote to allow the CUP was a matter of economic development.
“We listen to all this talk about economic development, then deny the next application that comes across our desk,” Kilmer said. “Between now and when we finally fix this, how many people are going to walk away and think, ‘I am not going to Morgan. They are still screwed up and I can’t figure it out.’? We work so hard to convince business to come, just to turn them away because we screwed up. This is not the first time.”
Cobabe said that he has already advised someone interested in opening a small car dealership to wait it out until July, when things could be better sorted out.
“Having been on the council for five years, one of my biggest frustrations is the citizen or business pays for our screw ups. When we fail to do our job, it costs them time and money,” Kilmer said. “We’ve got to make sure we are doing our job.”
Ford, who has been paying rent for the space at the airport for four months without being able to conduct business there, agreed. He said that if his CUP had been denied, he would take it to a “higher authority.”
When Kilmer began asking the council at its May 3 meeting if the council had consulted with the county appeal authority or state property rights ombudsman, County Attorney Jann Farris suggested the council go into executive session.
“I do feel I have been discriminated against greatly. I really don’t think I have gotten a fair shake here at all,” Ford said. “I have a clean operation. I am registered with the division of air quality. I am exempt due to the low level of pollutants that are put out. I know there has been a big community uprise, but no one has brought one bit of credible evidence toward that.”
The county council noted that many residents have stepped forward voicing opposition to a crematorium near residential neighborhoods. However, opinion and fear of foul odors is not enough to warrant denial of a conditional use permit, Kilmer said.
“I understand health and welfare,” Kilmer said. “But I am not seeing any facts that actually talk about health and welfare issues, with substantiated facts.”
“I sat through all of the (planning commission) meetings, and it was not turned down because of those things,” Cannon said. “It was turned down due to the maps.”
“I am not trying to make excuses, but my understanding was that the zoning followed the ordinance,” he said. “I thought they both changed when you adopted the ordinance.”