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News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, June 12, 2014
Blue Hill Board OKs funeral home move

by Rich Hewitt

It took a while, but the town’s planning board eventually approved the plan of a local funeral home to operate on Main Street.

It was after midnight on Tuesday morning, following a contentious public hearing and an equally argumentative board discussion, before the board in a split vote approved the application of the Jordan-Fernald Funeral Home to move its South Street operation to a portion of the former Cargoes building on Main Street. The vote was 5-2 (Henderson, Curtis).

The key issue throughout the discussion of the project has been parking and traffic, and that was the focus of much of the discussion during the proceedings that began Monday night and stretched into the early morning hours of Tuesday. During the public hearing, several residents raised that concern and also argued that the funeral home was not an appropriate business in a downtown that was trying to revive the Main Street area by attracting more retail venues.

Ellen Best pointed out that the concern was not for the normal day-to-day traffic that the funeral home would generate, but the larger groups of people that would attend visitations which the funeral home plans to hold at the Main Street location.

“How do you control people to stay in one area?” she asked. “I don’t know how that is going to happen.”

Attorney Andrew Hamilton, representing Lauri Fernald from the funeral home, noted that the business has an agreement with Bar Harbor Banking and Trust to use the bank’s nearby parking lot during the bank’s off-hours. He indicated that would provide sufficient parking for the funeral home. That assessment was backed up John Theriault, a traffic engineer from Sewall Company, who said, based on MDOT standards, the Main Street location was limited to a crowd of 60 people. The MDOT formula, Theriault said, requires that a space of that size with that many people would require 16 parking spaces.

Hamilton noted that there were 17 spaces in the bank parking lot and also introduced a map provided by local surveyor Sage Collins showing numerous parking spaces within 300 feet of the funeral home site.

Board member Marcia Henderson, who had raised the most concerns about parking and traffic congestion at a previous meeting, again argued that, despite the traffic study, the funeral home had no way of controlling or limiting the number of people who showed up at a viewing.

She argued that the board was charged with ensuring the safety of townspeople and that the traffic generated by the funeral home would exacerbate the parking and traffic problem in town. While most board members were satisfied that conditions placed on the permit would ease the impact of the funeral home visitations, Danner Curtis agreed with Henderson that the funeral home had not shown that it could control the number of cars that would come into town for any one visitation. He added that downtown parking spaces identified on the map that had been presented were, in fact, public parking spaces that were available to anyone and that were, in fact, already being used.

Others argued that while the downtown area near the funeral home was crowded, the parking spaces up Tenney Hill were very often empty, even on busy restaurant nights.

Much of the night was spent with the board and Hamilton discussing and refining conditions to the permit that would alleviate the impact of funeral home traffic during visitations on parking and on other businesses in town. That took time.

When the board finally approved the funeral home permit, they had agreed on six conditions that would be added to that permit.

They are:

• The funeral home will provide an attendant at the bank parking lot during visitations and will use the obituary to direct visitors to the parking lot for parking.

• It will limit the hours and days of visitations during the busy summer months of July and August: those hours are M-W, 5-7 p.m.; Thu.-Sat, 6-6:30 p.m., and Sun. 2-4 p.m. During the rest of the year, the hours will be 5-7 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and 2-4 p.m. on Sunday.

• The funeral home will communicate with the town office in order to avoid conflicts with other, high-traffic events.

• It will provide an off-street loading space, either behind the building or at some alternative off-street site.

• The planning board directs the funeral home to recommend to families a limit of 60 people at any one time at a visitation.

• The board will review the conditions of the permit after two years.

The board rejected limiting the permit to one year and also rejected a limit on the number of visitations that could be held at the site in one year.