Loudon residents crowded into the city courtroom Wednesday to protest the location of a Click Funeral Home crematory in the former United Community Bank building along Highway 72. About 90 minutes later and after a presentation by Larry Click and comments from residents, the Loudon Planning and Zoning Commission/Board of Zoning Appeals voted to delay a decision on the crematory for 30 days.
The city is "just kickin' the can down the road," said board member Carlie McEachern, who cast the only vote against the motion.
Loudon County Planning and Codes Enforcement Director Russ Newman said a special exception was needed for a crematory because the city's zoning ordinance does not have a zone named for crematories.
Click told board members that the term "crematory" was not exactly accurate. A crematory is a facility operated solely for cremations, he said. The more correct term for what he plans would be a funeral home with a retort. He said he has already purchased the building for the planned use.
"I want to build a state-of-the-art facility for the disposition of loved ones," Click said. He provided commissioners with a report compiled by a consultant for a funeral home in Spring City. "They compiled a $37,000 report that said it is absolutely safe. It is in the middle of Spring City. It opened a few months ago."
The consultants conducted air quality tests, using California standards as a benchmark, Click said. "There are 45 crematories in the state of Tennessee, but there is a growing need. Cremations are increasing. The state of Tennessee found that the term 'funeral home' also includes a crematory for disposition. Crematories are low emission. They are not EPA regulated."
"Service above self is my commitment as a funeral director," he added. "My funeral homes are beautiful - fabulous ... I have lived in this community my whole life, and I want to be a part of this community."
Some commissioners asked Click if he planned to hold funeral services in the bank building as well. If so, they said, parking would be an issue.
Click said that the more accurate term for what he plans would be "funeral establishment." The type of service needed or expected would dictate the venue for services, he said. Larger services might be held in churches or an event facility. Click said he was looking at getting the Carmichael Inn for celebration of life services. "I would love to buy the Carmichael Inn for memorial services."
A string of restaurants have been located in the renovated historical stage coach inn in recent years, but the economy and other issues have not allowed the businesses to thrive. It is currently not being used.
The issues being considered regarding cremation facilities are not taking place solely in Loudon. Click said Knoxville officials are struggling with some of the same questions, noting that the city is considering defining a zone for crematories and placing restrictions on the use of retorts, according to Click.
Click said funeral services bring visitors to the city which are good for business.
Asked if the facility would be used for outside cremations, Click said the city would be able to place restrictions on that if they wished. It was not his intention to bring others in, he said. Knoxville officials are considering allowing 50 percent to come from other funeral homes, he said. "If we do 200, that would be 400," he said. Click said he was a founding member of the crematory in Alcoa, built in 1992. Most outside cremations would go there, he said.
Mike Cartwright, a Loudon City Council member, addressed the group as a resident. "I just don't see an economic boom from this. The bottom line is I think there would be better uses for that building. It is one that is highly visible in Loudon and lots of citizens have called me with concerns."
Click countered that funeral homes are a "big part" of the community. "I would not downplay the services Click has provided."
Resident Sarah King asked what prevented Click from putting crematories in his other Loudon County facilities.
"Nothing," Click said. "Cremation has come of age. ... It has skyrocketed. I tried to put one in Lenoir City 10 years ago, but it was a residential community, and the neighbors didn't want it. This is not a residential area."
Click said cremation is "quick and clean" and odorless, noting that it would not affect property values. There would be no harmful emissions, and the facility would be attractive and tasteful.
"I am a property owner and I don't want it," resident Jay Hughes said.
Lynn Mills, Loudon city manager, asked about the number of cremations he might accept from other funeral homes. "It appears this would be out of the way for the base of your business," Mills said.
Barbara Lomax also expressed opposition. "I live in Green Acres subdivision, and I am opposed because of the impact it would have on Highway 72. We would love to see it developed. We've done a lot to revitalize the downtown. ... I would like to see a development other than a crematory."
John Cardwell, zoning appeals board member, made the motion to delay action until the information handed out by Click could be studied.