Neighbors oppose plan for funeral home near Aurora High
AURORA – Whether a Middlefield funeral home operator will be permitted to open up a funeral parlor in the former Masonic Temple building on West Pioneer Trail likely will be decided at the planning commission’s Dec. 2 meeting.
At a public hearing Nov. 18, several people opposed Gary Best’s request for a conditional zoning certificate so he can locate a funeral home in the building in front of Aurora High School. The panel took no action.
The 1.38-acre property is in an R-3 residential zoning district. Best claims a funeral home is similar to a cemetery or place of worship, which are conditionally permitted in a residential district. The property is surrounded by city- and school district-owned land.
The two-level building was erected in 1968, and the property includes a 100-car parking lot. W.K. Ricksecker Masonic Lodge 606 merged with Kent’s Rockton Lodge 316 in 2019, and Best said he is under contract to purchase the property.
Board of Education President Gerald Kohanski and Superintendent Mike Roberto were among six people who opposed granting the CZC. They cited traffic and safety/security concerns because of the proximity to AHS and municipal facilities, and argued that a funeral home is not a similar use to a church.
The city’s Walker Building is adjacent to the property on the west, while Fire Station 1 is about 100 yards down the street to the east. Ballfields are directly across the street, and the city is preparing to build a splash pad on the other side of the fire station.
Kohanski said the property would be more suited toward an educational or municipal use, while Roberto urged the planning panel to stick to the restrictions of R-3 zoning.
City Councilmen Scott Wolfe and Peter French also opposed granting the CZC. They said they don’t believe a commercial use is similar to a church, and they cited the high volume of traffic in the area at certain times.
Birchbark Trail resident Cheryl Merkel also was concerned about traffic, and claimed the business could negatively impact nearby home values. “I’m not against a funeral home, but not there,” she said. “I hope he can find another location.”
Resident John Verga said he finds Best’s proposal “totally preposterous.” He echoed the sentiments of the others about traffic, proximity to the high school and other issues.
Planning panelists Sarah Gilmore and Kathi Grandillo said they wouldn’t want to see emergency vehicles exiting the fire station have to compete with funeral processions going down West Pioneer Trail.
And Gilmore questioned what effect seeing ambulances unloading bodies and caskets being carried out of the building might have on students’ and athletes’ emotional well-being.
But residents Dr. Tony Badalamenti and Debbie Mann pointed out some positives. “There aren’t that many funerals in a week, and they would bring in people from out of town to boost Aurora’s economy,” Mann said.
Badalamenti downplayed the safety, traffic and homes value concerns. “I think this would be a great asset,” he said. “I don’t see traffic as a big problem. Mr. Best runs a good business, and I think it’s logical for him to ask for this. It would bring in tax dollars.”
With the city not having a funeral home, Best cited figures that $1.22 million dollars in funeral business leaves the city every year, and championed the economic impact to the city, schools and other businesses. He cited several area funeral homes that are located in residential neighborhoods.
He contended funeral homes and churches share a religious nature. “Both are used seven days a week, and churches can be busier than funeral homes,” he noted. “There are not going to be thousands of cars coming to the parlor; the traffic impact would be minimal.
“It would be stupid to schedule a funeral during school dismissal hours, and it is ridiculous to say the parlor would pose a security risk to students at the high school.”
When asked if he has considered other vacant buildings in town, Best said he looked at the former Aurora Country Club building on Trails End, but it is too large for his needs, while a couple of other vacant buildings are unsuitable.
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