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Harwood Home for Funeral owner explores possible compromise

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Harwood Home for Funerals owner Rick Harwood is considering another site for a controversial crematory he has proposed for his downtown Black Mountain, he told town alderman last week.

Harwood and his family have been “hurt” by comments from people opposing a rezoning request regarding the crematory he proposed for his West State Street business, he told aldermen Oct. 10. Several residents have raised concerns about having a crematory close to their homes and to Black Mountain's busy commercial district.

Despite what he said were hurtful comments, Harwood said he would "still be here for this community” and "always be here for this community.” To help people understand the nature of crematories and his business, Harwood invited people at the packed aldermen meeting and crowded overflow room to his funeral home. There, he said, they would meet Don Collins, an equipment representative of the company that makes the incineration machine Harwood is buying.  

Collins, no relation to the alderman by the same name, has been in the funeral and cremation business for more than 40 years, he told aldermen. His company, Matthews Environmental Solutions, has been making incineration machines for more than 60 years.

“We are the largest provider of cremation equipment in the world,” Collins said. “Matthews has over 4,300 cremation units in the United States and other parts of the world right now. Today’s equipment is designed to be more environmentally friendly.”

Collins said Harwood has made a down payment on a cremation machine. Construction cannot begin until the proper permits are granted by Buncombe County, as well as the state of North Carolina, Collins said.

“This machine is 12-and-a-half feet in length and weighs 24,000 pounds,” he said. “This is a heavy-duty piece of equipment.” Its safeguards "work on the emissions as much as possible to eliminate them,” he said. Any smoke left after the incineration is recirculated through a system of purifying baffles before being expelled into the air.

All machines are tested at the company’s facility in Apopka, Florida before being shipped, he said.

Collins' comments came as a result of Harwood's request that his West State Street business be rezoned to highway business from central business. A public hearing was supposed to be held Oct. 10 on that request, but a problem with Buncombe County's geographic information system resulted in the town mailing notices to residents and businesses within 166 feet of the funeral home, not the 200 feet required by law. The public hearing has been rescheduled for Nov. 7.

Harwood said about 10 people accepted his invitation to visit his funeral home after the aldermen meeting.

“Some people already have their mind made up,” he said in a recent interview. “I brought in a person that could answer questions about the very machine I’m looking to buy, and that was all that showed.”

Harwood said he's considering placing the cremation machine in a newly constructed building adjacent to the Mountain View Memorial Park, the cemetery on Tabernacle Road he bought earlier this year. If he did that, he would have to ask the the town of Black Mountain to annex the land. And he'd have to retrofit the building to house the machine - an additional expense.

“I’ll have to jump through hoops,” he said. “All this is prolonging what I need to do to take care of my business.

“I already pay taxes on my home, which is in the city,” he said. “I also pay taxes for my business, which is also in the city. If I go the route of putting the cremation machine out there, which would require the town annexing it, I’d be paying taxes on another location.”

Harwood Home for Funerals' current and requested zoning allows for crematories. Rick Harwood said he requested the rezoning for reasons beyond adding space for an incinerator.

"That building is almost 90 years old; it was built in 1928,” he said. “I have improvements I would like to make, and I can’t alter the footprint of it (because of) how it’s currently zoned.”

The board of aldermen will consider his rezoning request at its November meeting. Black Mountain's land use code does not allow the town to prohibit the funeral home from offering cremation services, town manager Matt Settlemyer said.

"He (Harwood) has the right to put this machine in his building right now, according to state statute," he said. "The only reason he needs to rezone is if he wants to expand the footprint of the building."

The business' current zoning bars Harwood from expanding or altering the building, even to make general improvements, Settlemyer said.

If Harwood decides to request annexation for Mountain View Memorial Park, the town could likely accommodate him, according to Settlemyer. The voluntary annexation process could take around 90 days and would also involve a rezoning of the land involved. But Harwood doesn't consider annexation as a solution.

"What if I get to that point and neighbors of the cemetery come out and protest it?" he said. "Currently I could put (a cremation machine) right in the building I have in town, but not necessarily in the building at the cemetery."

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