A pet crematorium wants to add human cremations.

There’s just something wrong about cremating human bodies in Chamblee, some city residents say.

“I don’t think in beautiful Chamblee we want to go in this direction,” Donna McDonald said last week at a work session of the Chamblee City Council.

The Shugart family doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

Since 1986, the family has overseen animal cremations at Deceased Pet Care, located at 4991 Peachtree Road. They simply intend to cremate human remains in the new facility they had built on the site of their old building, which was demolished.

This debate is a twist on the typical rezoning battles that have raged across DeKalb County. It’s not about fears that a big new building or shopping center will create traffic congestion and sewage issues.

This dispute addresses the evolution of Chamblee. It raises the question of how a smokestack industry that has operated without issue for 25 years can be compelled to adapt to the city’s new plans for itself as a residential community.

The Shugarts say that all they want to do is expand their cremation business. They intend to cremate human remains in a new building that they said has its city-issued certificate of occupancy. They contend that the smokestack output is miniscule and no different for humans than it is for animals.

The Shugarts brought in Steve Rohleder to explain the smokestack emissions from crematoriums. Rohleder works for the company that sold the furnace to the Shugarts.

“The cremation of a human being is no different from the cremation of a pet,” Rohleder said. “The use really isn’t different from what they’ve been using the facility for – cremating pets for 25 years.”

Eric Shugart, who helps run the business his father started in 1972, said the city knew of the plans to expand into the business of human remains. It was all included in the construction plans and variance the city approved, he said.

“I don’t see what the problem is,” Shugart said.

The problem is that crematories are not allowed in Chamblee, according to Mayor Eric Clarkson. The city’s zoning and land use provisions simply do not provide for crematories of any type to operate in the city, Clarkson said.

“The council has to decide if it’s going to be an allowable use,” Clarkson said. “Regardless of how they care to conduct business, we have to focus on whether this is an allowable use.”

The Shugarts’ lawyer said the city’s zoning code doesn’t apply to the crematory. The facility was operating before the zoning regulation was enacted, according to Louis Beltrami, an experienced land use lawyer with an office on Glenridge Drive.

“Legally, it’s a non-conforming use,” Beltrami said. “It was grandfathered in when the city adopted its zoning ordinance.”

Clarkson said the city has no next step to take unless Shugart submits a rezoning application. Such a rezoning proposal would follow the normal course through public hearings to council consideration and action.

Beltrami, the lawyer, said the family is considering its next options.

Councilman Mark Wedge drew attention to the planned human crematory in the catchy first sentence of an email he sent out to alert residents of the facility: “How would you like to have a human crematorium less than a half a mile from your home?”

Wedge’s email helped attract a crowd of about 25 people to the council’s work session. About 10 of them spoke, most of them in opposition to the idea of cremating humans in Chamblee.

“You have a lot of undeveloped property within a few hundred feet of location that should be taken into consideration,” John Bradford said.

“You’re never going to get nice condos, restaurants or facilities such as that across the street from a human crematory,” Bradford said. “I think it would be a detriment for the city to allow it.”

Dee Bradford-Smith was so adamant that she took the podium twice to make her opposition known.

“This fellow has cremated two of my cats and did a beautiful service for me,” Bradford-Smith said.

“My mother is 85, and I wouldn’t cremate my mother here and stay in Chamblee,” Bradford-Smith said. “I also have cremated a fiancé. It’s just a very different thing from cremating cats.”

Charles Rudd said the size of the turn-out at the work session could make one think something big was up for consideration. He doesn’t think a human crematory is a big deal.

“There are so many folks here you’d think we have a Wal-Mart coming in,” Rudd said from the podium.

Rudd said after the meeting that he supports Shugarts’ plan to cremate human remains.

“He runs a clean operation,” Rudd said. “Let him run it and let the living keep the $5,000 in funeral costs.”

By David Pendered