Tari Dexter (left) and Bill Dexter inspect new equipment for their crematorium in Stanwood. (Julia-Grace Sanders / The Herald)

Tari Dexter (left) and Bill Dexter inspect new equipment for their crematorium in Stanwood. (Julia-Grace Sanders / The Herald)

Crematorium plan creates neighborhood dustup in Stanwood

Despite a thorough clean air permit, some argue a crematorium would diminish downtown’s environment.

STANWOOD — A proposed funeral home and crematorium in a historic section of downtown Stanwood is sparking debate.

Neighbors fear pollution, while business owners feel the city is backtracking on an already green-lighted project.

Back in April, the city gave Bill and Tari Dexter the go-ahead to begin construction on their new business — a building with a funeral home, crematorium and office space. But after a complaint that the crematorium would adversely affect the downtown shopping experience, the city put a hold on renovation.

In the meantime, Dexter said he’s racking up about $10,000 per month in expenses as a roomful of brand new crematorium equipment sits unused.

“We went ahead and purchased equipment, signed a long-term lease, got everything going and then when I was having the crematorium (equipment) delivered, people saw this machine and a big crane and some people started questioning what was going on,” he said.

In early April, the Dexters started looking at the former window store on 271st street NW as a potential spot for their business. They wanted to upgrade from their location in Arlington so they could have offices and a crematorium at one location, instead of contracting out for cremation services.

The couple lived in Stanwood years ago, and Dexter said they were excited to be a part of the community once again.

Since the city code didn’t specify crematoriums as an allowed use, he double-checked with the city.

“Just to be clear, I contacted the city before I got locked into the property,” he said.

On April 5, senior city planner Amy Rusko wrote a letter to the Dexters saying that “a funeral home and crematorium would be allowed under Chapter 17.30 Permitted Uses of the Stanwood Municipal Code …”

With that go-ahead, Dexter finalized a lease for the building and got to work. He started an extensive remodel, and ordered the equipment for cremating human remains.

Then, Stanwood received a complaint about the project claiming the city had made a mistake in considering the crematorium portion of the project as an allowed use.

Community development director Patricia Love then wrote to Dexter on Aug. 2, alerting him to the complaint and telling him the city would need to launch a formal investigation.

She also wrote that the April 5 letter and a city-issued plumbing permit “should not be construed to include the crematorium part of your project.”

Dexter said he felt the city caved to complaints and went back on its word.

“It was very out of the blue,” he said of the notice. “I was very disappointed in the city that they were backpedaling based upon political pressure in an election year.”

The city completed a formal review Aug. 20 in which Rusko, the city planner, addressed many of the concerns raised in the initial complaint and determined that the crematorium would be an allowed use under city code.

In response to worries about potential smell or smoke, the city referenced a 26-page air quality approval the Dexters acquired for their project. City staff also visited similarly situated crematoriums, including one on Colby Avenue and 33rd Street in Everett. No smoke or odor was evident, according to the city’s report.

Crematoriums do produce emissions that may have an impact on the general public. But with strict regional regulations, any vapors emitted from external exhaust must be well below state standards, according to the report.

City staff also determined that since a crematorium offers a service, it is compatible with Stanwood’s commercial zoning.

Stanwood resident Tim Schmidt is part of a small coalition who raised the $500 needed to appeal the city’s approval.

“The main basis of the complaint is that it will adversely impact the experience of being downtown,” he said.

Schmidt worries about carbon dioxide output.

“This is happening less than half a mile from the farmers market,” he said. “I believe that output is incompatible with (the market).”

The Dexters’ business currently produces only about 14 percent of the emissions allowed by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, Bill Dexter said.

The total CO2 output for a year would be about equal to that created by 270 people breathing, he said.

But Stanwood resident Peggy Kitting, who filed the appeal against the city’s decision to allow the crematorium, worries those numbers will increase.

“As his business grows, what he’s saying right now is irrelevant,” she said.

Kitting said she’s not against having a crematorium in Stanwood, but feels the downtown strip isn’t the right location. She’d prefer a restaurant or shop that encourages people to spend time in the historic area.

“It’s the heart of the city, it’s just more than a place of business,” she said.

A hearing for the appeal is set for Oct. 25, according to city administrator Jennifer Ferguson.

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

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