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The Dripby Fern Shen5:15 pmOct 23, 20230

York Road crematorium opponents take their case to the Appellate Court of Maryland

Neighboring communities say a Baltimore judge erred in upholding a Zoning Board decision to allow the facility less than 200 feet from homes

Above: A resident near Vaughn Greene Funeral Service’s York Road location with a lawn sign in opposition to the proposed crematorium there. (Fern Shen)

Residents opposed to a human crematorium being placed in north Baltimore near residential neighborhoods have appealed a Circuit Court decision upholding the Zoning Board’s approval of the facility.

Multiple community groups have sought to prevent Vaughn Greene Funeral Services from adding a cremation operation to its existing location at 4905 York Road. Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill rejected their arguments last May.

The communities announced today that they have filed an appeal, arguing Fletcher-Hill improperly dismissed their critique of the decision by the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals (BMZA) to allow the crematorium.

They argue the BMZA ignored the zoning code by refusing to enforce the citywide ban on incinerators and improperly abandoned its duty to protect health when it “dodged accountability for those concerns by shifting responsibility (or blame) to the Maryland Department of the Environment.”

In a statement, the residents said the panel incorrectly reasoned that because the area is already highly polluted, the addition of another source of toxic emissions would not be in conflict with the zoning code.

“By this logic, because the health of this community has been previously disregarded, the city is allowed to continue down the path of further marginalization,” the appellants argued in their 34-page brief.

Call for Environmental Justice

The announcement came with supportive comments by the area’s City Council representative, Mark Conway.

“Now is the time for the Appellate Court of Maryland to recognize and reverse the error of the BMZA in this case and to protect public health,” Conway said. “Environmental justice must be more than an aspiration on the horizon of someday.”

“Now is the time for the Appellate Court to reverse the error of the BMZA and protect the public health”  – Councilman Mark Conway.

The appeal was filed by the original plaintiffs in the three-year-old case: the York Road Partnership, Winston-Govans Neighborhood Improvement Association, Radnor-Winston Improvement Association and longtime residents Cindy Camp and Moira Horowitz.

The York Road Partnership is a coalition of 30 neighborhoods, nonprofits, churches and institutions along the York Road corridor from 39th Street to the city line and from Charles Street to the Alameda.

Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has not yet responded to a request for comment.

The company’s request for a conditional use to install the cremation equipment was made by its corporate parent, M & G Property Management TWO LLC.

Greene Funeral Services, which currently has four locations in the Baltimore area, has said it wants to open its own crematory as an alternative to using a third party to conduct the cremations.

The proposed facility on York Road would be used to cremate bodies from all locations.

More Fine Particulates

Among the arguments the opponents have made is that the proposed crematorium, which would be less than 200 feet from the nearest residence, threatens the heath of a neighborhood already suffering from poor health outcomes.

“Appellant Cindy Camp can see Greene Funeral Services from the home that she shares with her grandson, who has severe asthma, and her brother, who has chronic lung disease,” the appellants’ brief said.

“Black neighborhoods have been disregarded — our health needs must be considered,” Camp said in the community’s released statement.

Judge hears arguments in residents’ appeal of York Road crematorium (7/15/22)

The appellants said the BMZA should have considered the cumulative effects on public health of adding a crematorium that would release more health-harming fine particulate matter into a community already challenged with poor air quality.

And they again made an argument the BMZA had rejected – that a crematorium is an incinerator prohibited under the zoning code – saying, “Common sense and plain English use dictate that incinerators include crematoria.”

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