A sea of over 250 people, most in red shirts, flooded the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday, Dec. 16 to protest an application for a conditional-use permit for a funeral home or mortuary in south Forsyth.
Despite pleas to deny the application from residents living in Lakepoint at Johns Creek, Deer Lake and Stonebridge neighborhoods, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners voted to approve it. The vote passed with a 4-0 vote with District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper absent.
The proposed funeral home will be located east of Peachtree Parkway at the intersection with Granite Lane.
The request previously went before the planning commission on Nov. 16, and planning board members recommended approval of the project.
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About a dozen residents spoke at the meeting during public comments, and each person had a reason why they felt the application should be denied.
Dozens of residents met at the Sharon Forks Library on Dec. 11 to discuss speaking strategies and plan their protest before Thursday’s meeting.
Prashanth Veerabomma, president of the HOA of Lakepoint, said on Thursday that he was “representing all members of [the] Lakepoint community” in his comments.
He said the development was “not in the interests of home values of the residents that belong to the nearby subdivisions,” expressing concerns that the proposed funeral home could affect housing evaluations and that neighborhoods might shift from “high-value neighborhoods to abandoned homes.”
Veerabomma said that the location of the proposed funeral home was “out of place” for the context and nature of the minority groups that lived around the property.
“The proposed development will result in relocating of the minority citizens, and that will hurt the diversity of the Forsyth County constituents,” Veerabomma said.
Prathima Nidumolu, a real estate agent and resident of Stone Bridge, expressed concerns about home values dropping as well.
“In my personal experience as a real estate agent, I have buyers inquiring about the new funeral home coming up right next to our subdivision,” Midumolu said. “They don’t want to buy homes in our neighborhood.”
Nidumolu said that she had asked her clients if they would hypothetically purchase a home next to a funeral home right now, “given how hard the real estate market is and the houses in short supply.”
“They said they would rather pay higher rent living in an apartment than buy a house next to a funeral home,” Midumolu said. “If this is the sentiment expressed in a hard real estate market, imagine what it would be when the market goes down.”
Uma Arun, a mother of two and resident of Lakepoint, spoke “on behalf of several hundreds of moms [and] grand-moms around the property.”
Arun said that after hearing about the proposal for a funeral home her children started to “feel worried about living next to dead bodies and graveyards,” and she said the topic of death was “depressing and stressful” for young kids.
“Whatever kids think about death is very different from celebration of life,” Arun said. “…Kids see death as death, and not as a celebration. For them, all death means tears, sorrow and grief.
“I think it is too much to expect out of [these] younger kids to handle such situations when all they need to think about at this age is to study and play,” she said.
Arun’s daughter, Arkita Arun, spoke during the meeting, saying that during COVID-19, many children in the neighborhood played together outside in backyards and neighborhood greenspace areas.
The middle-schooler said that with the funeral home seated so close, the kids might be nervous to play outside, and she asked commissioners not to “take away our playtime.”
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Those in favor
Eddie Lummus, a funeral director with over 40 years of experience, spoke in favor of the application.
Lummus said that funeral homes were “important” for the community, “just like a fire department, police department, your hospital [and] your doctor’s office.”
He also said that a funeral home or mortuary was a “low-impact business” and that there might only be a “slight” impact on traffic in the area.
“In a community, when we come into a community, we’re not like another business,” Lummus said. “We get involved in the community, … we give back into the community and we want to educate the kids in the schools to make sure they understand what a funeral is and how to have that funeral mean something to them.”
Lummus said that in the funeral home industry, the businesses strived to be “always respectful in the neighborhood.”
“We are good neighbors,” Lummus said. “We’re going to make sure that the facility always looks nice because it’s our reputation to make sure that we serve those families.”
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During discussion, District 2 Commissioner Alfred John addressed his constituents in the audience, speaking about his past and personal experiences moving to Forsyth County 20 years ago.
“Some of what I observed didn’t particularly suit my lifestyle, but that was something that was internal to my family, and I didn’t push that on others,” John said. “…I didn’t think that differing thoughts and lifestyles were going to affect how I lived my life or raise my children. Has it been a perfect life? No. Has it been a great life? Absolutely.”
John said that now, the commissioners had an application for a “memorial chapel” to serve “people of all backgrounds, cultures, religions and races,” and that the facility was proposed on a commercial corridor along Peachtree Parkway, surrounded by fast-food restaurants, retail spaces, a hospital and more.
“When this application came before us, we felt that it was a business that would well serve the south Forsyth community as well as the Johns Creek community which it almost borders,” John said.
John said there will be “no embalming or cremations on-site” at the proposed funeral home, reiterating the point twice.
John also said that he was “disappointed that a handful of people have been spreading misinformation about what a funeral [home] or a memorial chapel does.”
“Social media has needlessly stoked fears and concerns, and the emails that all of [the commissioners] have received are evidence of that,” John said. “However, we have a responsibility to the broader community and I can tell you that I have received calls encouraging this development.
“People are happy that we have done very good work attracting the right kind of investment on Peachtree Parkway,” he said. “They are thrilled that the county has finally taken over the maintenance for the medians of Peachtree Parkway. There’s new life on Peachtree Parkway and people in the investment community … are excited about what is to come.”
After hearing constituents’ concerns or encouragement about the proposed funeral home, John made the motion to approve a conditional-use permit for a funeral home or mortuary without the proposed open storage yard and no variances.