White Plains Rural Cemetery Assoc. Wins Appeal to Build Crematory

The White Plains Rural Cemetery Association has won an appeal in a quest it began in 2014 to build a crematory on its property at 167 N. Broadway in White Plains.

Claiming financial hardship partly because the cemetery is running out of room for future burials, the Association requested a Zoning variance to add a crematorium to the facilities and uses on the site.

The Jan. 30 decision by the Second Appellate Division that the Cemetery Association should be allowed to build the crematory stated that the White Plains Zoning Board’s decision not to allow the variance was “arbitrary and capricious” because there was no rational basis for the Board to determine the Cemetery Association faced no real financial hardship, a point often used to obtain zoning variances.

The Court decision also stated: “The Board improperly determined that the 1,800–square–foot crematory would alter the essential character of the neighborhood. The unrebutted evidence demonstrated that the crematory would be shielded from view, would be odorless and not emit visible smoke, and had passed all necessary emissions and air quality testing. Other evidence indicated that the structure would not have an impact on any nearby historical resources and the crematory was not visible from the nearest residence, which is 400 feet away and across a major interstate highway. The (Zoning) Board’s other concerns that surrounding home values would decrease and that granting the variance would allow for additional crematoriums to be constructed on the subject property are predicated on nothing more than speculation and appear to be the product of generalized community opposition.”

The nondenominational private cemetery has major historical relevance to the city of White Plains as a burial ground dating back to the 1700s and location for city ceremonies on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The grounds cover 30 acres with walkways, old trees and lush landscaping. The cemetery has operated since 1854, prior to the establishment of residential zoning in the area. The operation of a cemetery was considered a legal, nonconforming use in the residential zone.

Residents of the North Broadway Citizens Association and the city of White Plains have expressed concerns to block the building of a crematory on the site since the request was first made in 2014.

A permit was initially denied by the White Plains Building Department and a variance denied by the Zoning Board of Appeals, which claimed the proposed crematory is not a conforming use in a cemetery.

To a request for comment on the Jan. 30 decision to allow plans for the crematory to go forward, John Callahan, Counsel for the City of White Plains said, “We are examining the opinion and have not yet decided on whether to seek leave to appeal from the court.”

Similarly, the White Plains Rural Cemetery Association responded: “On the advice of our attorney, we have no comment at this time.”

According to the 2018 Cremation and Burial Report, released by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) over the next 18 years, the rate of cremation in the United States is projected to increase by nearly 30 percent. Already having outpaced the rate of burial for three consecutive years, the national cremation rate will reach nearly 80 percent (or 2.80 million cremations per year) by 2035, according to NFDA, based on a variety of factors including changing consumer preference, weakening religious prohibitions and environmental concerns. According to the 2018 report, the national 2018 cremation rate is projected to be 53.5 percent and the burial rate is projected to be 40.5 percent.

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