The Knoxville City Council chamber was full Wednesday night as dozens of concerned residents expressed their opposition to a proposed new business in their neighborhood.
Leroy Winfield, owner of Winfield Funeral Home, offered the City of Knoxville $20,485 for property at 1512 West Pleasant. This property was obtained by the City in an attempt to clean up blight. Winfield's offer covered all costs and expenditures made by the City in purchasing and cleaning the property.
But it is what Winfield intends to put on the land that caused concern. Winfield intends to build a crematorium. The land in question is zoned commercial, which would allow construction of such a business, though it is surrounded by residential properties. If the City of Knoxville did not own the property, no public hearing would be required for its sale and there may not be a way for the City to deny its construction.
The Knoxville City Council had previously denied a request by Winfield to rezone a parcel of land near Fairlane Bowl to accommodate the crematorium. City staff members worked with Winfield to try to find City-owned property that would better suit his needs. 1512 West Pleasant looked like the best site.
Before the City can sell any of its property, a public hearing is required. The public was heard, both verbally and nonverbally, as many addressed the council and a petition with 144 signatures was submitted to the council.
Chad DesPlanque, Jeff Jones and others who spoke were concerned that the crematorium may affect their property values. Others expressed concern about what to tell children who live and attend school in the area, when they ask what the crematorium is for.
“There could be a lot better placement,” DesPlanque said.
Winfield was also given the opportunity to address the council. He presented council members with a packet of information that included a proposed exterior design for the building. Winfield said it would look like a three-stall garage, and that there would be no clouds of billowing smoke coming from the chimney. A clear vapor would be released into the air. Assistant City Manager Dylan Feik researched crematorium regulations in Iowa, and the state monitors emissions from such facilities.
“Fireplaces produce more than a crematory,” Winfield said. “I feel this is a very good site for a crematory. I have offered a fair price. I would like to see it back on the tax rolls.”
City Manager Harold Stewart stressed that staff worked to accommodate Winfield. He is trying to overcome the stereotype that City Hall impedes business development and progress in Knoxville. Other options for the property, including a road extension and housing development were explored, but there is insufficient land available.
Jim Jones, who lives in Knoxville Estates and is a former Chamber of Commerce Board President, told Winfield he supports economic development, but he shares the concerns property owners in the neighborhood have about the location.
Lad Vontagen was the only resident who voiced total support for Winfield. He said he attends funerals, including some near crematoriums, and has never noticed a smell.
Council members were thankful for everyone's comments, but ultimately voted 3-1 to approve the sale. Councilor Elsie Kemp voted against it and Councilor Dave Roozeboom was absent.
“It's a tough decision,” Councilor Tim Pitt said. “I'm afraid that we're going to appear even more anti-business than we already appear.”
“I don't see any business diminishing because of it,” Councilor April Verwers said. Councilor Carolyn Formanek said that if she had commercial property available near her house, she would sell it to Winfield for this purpose.