Donaldson Funeral Home has appealed the Howard County hearing examiner’s decision to deny its petition to build a funeral home off Route 108 in Clarksville to the Board of Appeals.
“The Hearing Examiner erroneously concluded that Appellant (Donaldson Funeral Home) failed to meet its burden regarding the requirements of Howard County Zoning Regulations Section 131.B.2,” read the reason for appeal in the petition of appeal filed Dec. 21 with the Department of Planning and Zoning.
Because the land is zoned for residential use, the funeral home company, which has locations in Laurel and Odenton, needed permission from the hearing examiner to build a funeral home on the three-acre Clarksville property, which owner Jay Donaldson bought in October 2009.
Donaldson deferred comment to his attorney, Sang Oh, who confirmed that they appealed the decision but declined to provide further comment.
During the process of presenting the case before the hearing examiner, which took five hearings spread across six months, Donaldson Funeral Home amended its petition to build a 25,390-square-foot building containing three viewing rooms and a 192-seat chapel to change the chapel’s capacity to 152 seats, among other changes.
Donaldson Funeral Home has elected to proceed its appeal on the conditions of the amended petition. A date has not yet been set for the Board of Appeals hearing.
The basis for hearing examiner Michele LeFaivre’s decision to deny Donaldson’s petition is that the funeral home would have an adverse impact on neighboring properties, which include St. Louis Catholic Church and Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.
“The facts in this case clearly establish the adverse effects (the funeral home would create) at the proposed location are unique and different, to the extent they are sufficient to warrant denial,” she wrote in her Nov. 29 decision, which totaled 65 pages.
St. Louis Church was the opponent in this case, represented by attorney William Erskine. Their main grievance was that the funeral home would impact the living situation of Monsignor Joseph Luca, who resides in the church rectory — the part of the church’s property closest to the proposed funeral home site — with one other full-time St. Louis priest and three seminarians.
“We obviously anticipated the likelihood of an appeal,” Erskine said. “It is not really a surprise to us.”
However, he said, they were hoping that Donaldson Funeral Home would amend his petition to decrease the size of the proposed funeral home.
“He could amend and revise his conditional use proposal based upon the comments and concerns by the hearing examiner,” Erskine said. “They did not do that as of yet.”
Because the appeal allows the parties to present their testimony anew, he said his main argument that the rectory where the priest lives should be considered a residence under Howard County zoning law will be reconsidered.
“That certainly will be an issue that we will revisit,” he said, noting that he was surprised by the hearing examiner’s ruling that the priest’s residence, which sits on the same parcel of Archdiocese of Baltimore-owned land as the St. Louis Catholic Church, is an accessory to the church, and as such is also defined as an institutional use under the county’s zoning law.
“Although I am sympathetic to opponent testimony about the residential use of the structure (the rectory), any other conclusion is contrary to more than 80 years of land-use law,” LeFaivre wrote in her decision.
While the two parties prepare for the appeal, the planning board is getting ready to discuss at its Jan. 13 meeting two zoning regulation amendments that would affect the case.
“The first would update the parking requirements for funeral homes to be more consistent with some of our surrounding jurisdictions,” Erskine said.
The amendment, filed by County Council members Greg Fox and Mary Kay Sigaty in July, would change the county’s requirement for funeral home parking to read “10 spaces per public viewing room or 1 space per 50 square feet of floor area in public rooms (chapel, reception rooms, visitation rooms, and any flexible space adjacent to these rooms that can be used as overflow when necessary), whichever is greater; plus one space per employee.”
If the parking regulations are modified, Erskine said Donaldson Funeral Home would have to amend its petition to add more parking spaces.
The other zoning regulation amendment, which was introduced at the request of St. Louis Catholic Church parishioner Patrick Marlatt, would prohibit funeral homes from being built in residential zoning districts.
“If funeral homes on residential property are prohibited,” Erskine said, Donaldson’s “case could not go forward.”
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