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Vexing Vapors

A proposed crematory in Spring Hill and the volley of assertions about its potential impact on public health have city leaders scratching their heads, and they’ve decided to hire an expert to help them sort out whether the fumes could harm nearby residents.

The Columbia Daily Herald has been following the issue:

Spring Hill Memorial Park and Funeral Home is requesting the city approve a 3,600-square-foot crematory behind the funeral home on Main Street. The request has elicited fears from surrounding residents — mainly in the Witt Hill subdivision — who fear mercury vapors from dental amalgam fillings will be released into the air when bodies are incinerated. …

(The city attorney) told aldermen that hiring an expert would not cost more than $10,000 and would likely be closer to $5,000. In their vote, aldermen did not set a price limit on how much would be spent on the expert.

Silver-colored dental fillings are about half-mercury. The cremation industry points to studies that it says show the emissions from burning them along with a body are innocuous, but residents from Connecticut to Minnesota remain skeptical.

Around one-third of people in the U.S. are cremated at death, according to Scripps Howard News Service. The rate in Tennessee is 16 percent.

Meanwhile, in Britain, where seven in 10 people are cremated at death, the rules on emissions have been tightened, and the debate has moved on to another environmental challenge. Researchers there are looking at how and whether to recycle the heat captured in the process of cremating the body, the Guardian reported in April:

The onus is on UK crematoria to halve mercury emissions, which come mainly from tooth fillings, by 2012 and eliminate them altogether by 2020. Many will need to install new equipment. Those that have already invested in heat-capture technology usually divert the excess heat to other crematorium buildings.

Some crematoria in Sweden and Denmark have gone further, selling surplus heat for use in houses. Many see this as entirely sensible, avoiding the need for crematoria to have expensive and energy-hungry cooling towers. But others wonder if it breaches an ethical code drawn up the International Cremation Federation.

Jackson Annexation Advances; Tullahoma Leader Pitches Historic Zoning

The city of Jackson has extended police, fire and other services to a 7-square-mile area northwest of the city it is annexing, the Jackson Sun reports. The annexation, which prompted a lawsuit from affected property owners, will be completed later this month.

The newspaper talked to residents John and Susan Durfee, whose home was among the property the court exempted.

“We’re still very much against the annexation,” John Durfee told the newspaper. “We love living here. We don’t need any of the amenities they offer.”

Susan Durfee compared her situation to that of the country’s founding fathers: “We really feel the need to be less and less dependent on the government. Our country was founded by people who were self-sufficient. They grew their own food, made their own clothes, took out their own garbage.”

In other zoning news, the city administrator in Tullahoma has suggested the public does not understand what is and is not historic, and that once they understand they will embrace his plan to set up historic zoning in the city. But administrator Jody Baltz hinted at flexibility, saying his plan would allow for honorary designations for property where owners did not want to participate, according to a report in the Tullahoma News and Guardian.

Baltz said the public first needs to be educated about what is historic in Tullahoma before historic districts can be created.

“We want to identify what has historic significance, then educate people about what’s historic and then designate what’s historic,” he said. “We want to come up with a document that will have support.”

The News says a 2005 effort fell flat.

Concerns expressed from residents whose property could be in those districts regarding potential costs and requirements associated with maintaining historic themes led to establishing historic sections in Tullahoma in name only.

Columbia Considering Streamlined Zoning Experiment

The Daily Herald reports that Columbia city officials are considering scrapping the city’s 400-page zoning law in favor of something called a form-based code, which regulates building shape and how they fit in with their surroundings.

Traditional zoning focuses more on the land’s use for residential, commercial or other purposes, and other regulations like housing density. The story says city officials were briefed on the proposed change Tuesday.

The city planning director explained to officials that the new policy “would be a significantly streamlined instruction manual, giving developers clearly drawn diagrams and definitions of what type of building is allowed in the city.”

For an example of a form-based code, see the plans for the on-again, off-again May Town Center project in Bells Bend. It’s on page 93 of this doc.

Zone Coverage

Zoning boards and land-use officials across the state regularly set their regulatory sights on all manner of commercial activity and residential development efforts. The decisions they make aren’t always regarded with the highest esteem.

  • The Oak Ridge City Council delayed a decision on whether to rezone a piece of land on the Oak Ridge Turnpike to allow for commercial development, even though businesses like Sonic and Dollar General already dot the area.
  • There’s government infighting over a proposal in Cheatham County, where the Board of Zoning Appeals made an exception to the rule in allowing a mobile home on a 2.5-acre Joelton lot. The usual minimum is 5 acres for a lot without a public water supply, and Cheatham County Mayor David McCullough is appealing the decision.

McWherter, Haslam Denounce Mosque Fire, Laud Zoning

Both major party candidates for Tennessee governor denounced the burning of construction equipment at the site of a new mosque in Murfreesboro over the weekend.

And both also reiterated earlier statements that local zoning officials should decide if and where controversial building occurs.

Candidates Mike McWherter, a Democrat, and Bill Haslam, a Republican, addressed the issue Tuesday night at a “Student Town Hall” forum sponsored by Tennessee First Lady Andrea Conte.

Asked how “as governor (he) would balance freedom of religion with concerns about security,” McWherter said that while he’s a “huge proponent of religious freedom” he “understand(s) the constraints and problems you have when you locate an institution like that inside of a quiet neighborhood.”

“As a community you ought to be able to have some zoning restrictions, and make sure that the house you bought is something that you can continue to resell, and will not disturb your neighborhood,” he continued.

McWherter, a businessman from Jackson, went on to denounce the perpetrators of the crime, calling it an “atrocity.”

Responding to a question from a reporter outside the forum later, Haslam took a similar tack.

“No one should condone what’s just happened, OK. It’s just not acceptable in any way, and those folks should be found and appropriately punished,” said the Knoxville mayor.

On the issue of whether the mosque should be built, Haslam said it is a “local land-use issue.”

“As somebody who has been a mayor, I didn’t want the state or federal government telling us what to do,” he said. “That’s where you follow constitutional guidelines and local land-use planning and you let the local land-use people decide.”

Federal law enforcement agencies are investigating the setting ablaze of a piece of earth-moving equipment in the early morning hours of Aug. 28 at the location of a proposed 52,000-square-foot Islamic religious center in Rutherford County.

A local FBI official was quoted by CNN as saying that while the the cause of the fire is believed to have been arson, “We have no reason to think it’s a hate crime.”

A statement issued by an Islamic Center of Murfreesboro spokewoman Monday declared “we feel heartbroken that we have been a victim of yet another shameful crime, however, we are grateful to the majority members of this community who expressed their support.”

“We believe that this event was instigated by the hate campaign that our Muslim community has been subjected to recently,” the release continued.