Despite opposition from the owner of Greenmount Cemetery, York Building Products won approval Thursday to expand its quarrying operation onto 16 acres that border the cemetery.
The company will not blast for limestone on the property but will use it instead for storage of "overburden," dirt and rock that's been removed from other parts of the quarry.
York Building Products plans to build a grass-covered berm 60 feet high to separate the quarry from the cemetery.
The city's zoning hearing board voted to grant the company's request for a variance — ending many months of revised requests from York Building Products to use the land it owns. Purchased several years ago, the parcel is zoned for residential use.
The company first sought last year to expand its mining activities into the parcel.
That idea sparked organized opposition among residents of the city's nearby Avenues neighborhood, who expressed numerous concerns about the prospect of a quarry moving closer to their properties.
The company abandoned that pursuit and sought instead to use the land for storage — which required a zoning variance.
"I believe this is the bare minimum of what we could do with this property," said Joseph Clark, vice president and general counsel for Stewart Companies, York Building Products' parent company.
Concerns: But on Thursday, it was the cemetery's owner who voiced concerns.
Jack Sommer said he considers York Building Products a good company.
"But no matter how many times you rework a bad idea, it just might be still a bad idea," he said.
Sommer said he's worried about the proposal's impact on his business.
The cemetery's largest section of undeveloped property — future grave sites, in other words — borders the 16-acre parcel, Sommer said.
"Would you bury a loved one within 30 or 40 feet of an earthen dam?" he said.
Earlier in the hearing, the zoning board's solicitor, John Herrold, asked for assurance from the company that quarry operations near the berm would cease during burial services in the cemetery — assuming the company is given advance notice.
"It's not a problem for a few hours to do something else," said Jim Gawthrop, York Building Products' vice president of strategic development.
But funerals "are not a singular event," Sommer said.
Many grieving people visit their loved ones at the cemetery regularly — especially in the days, weeks and months after a death, Sommer said.
Restricting quarry activity during burial services is "not going to help the widow who lost her husband two weeks ago, and she wants to come out and visit the site," he said.
"And she's in the middle of a construction zone," Sommer said.
After the vote, Sommer said he considers the company's representatives "very reasonable folks."
"We'll move forward," he said.
— Reach Erin James at firstname.lastname@example.org.