A Town of Tonawanda funeral home is challenging the state Cemetery Board’s determination that its cremation operation can’t move from its Sheridan Drive site to another location.
The court challenge by Amigone Funeral Home and Sheridan Park Inc., its nonprofit crematory, was filed last week in State Supreme Court.
The case was filed against the state Division of Cemeteries and its director, Richard D. Fishman, as well as the Cemetery Board and its members: Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and state Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav R. Shah.
“This determination by the Cemetery Board is based on an error in interpreting the Anti-Combination Law,” attorney Robert E. Knoer stated in the court petition.
Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek is scheduled to hear motions in the case Feb. 21.
Last summer, Sheridan Park Inc. entered into an agreement with the State Attorney General’s Office, resulting in a voluntary six-month shutdown as the owners tried to resolve neighbor complaints about emissions. Neighbors teamed up with a local environmental group in seeking a public-nuisance lawsuit.
That agreement, which expired this week, directed Sheridan Park to secure an alternate location and apply for the required approvals. If relocation wasn’t an option, the crematory was supposed to retain a consultant to address residents’ concerns and make recommendations, subject to review by the Attorney General’s Office and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
After finding a possible new location on Cooper Avenue, in an industrial zone, Sheridan Park Inc. sought permission from the Cemetery Board to move operations there. Such a move would require the site’s designation as a cemetery district by the Erie County Legislature and permission from the board.
Nearby residents of Two Mile Creek Road, which runs parallel to Cooper Avenue, opposed the site.
In October, Sheridan Park Inc. was notified by the Cemetery Board that it couldn’t move because it would violate the Anti-Combination Law of 1998, which bans funeral home and cemetery/crematory combinations. The law was enacted seven years after Sheridan Park Inc. began its operations at 2600 Sheridan Drive.
Now, Amigone and Sheridan Park Inc. are seeking a court determination that the 1998 law doesn’t apply to their combined business operation.
“The law was specifically aimed at preventing future business combinations and was not meant to affect the location of crematories themselves,” Knoer said.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment Wednesday.
Erin Heaney, executive director of Clean Air Coalition of WNY, said the group and many neighborhood residents would continue to oppose relocating the crematory to Cooper Avenue, even if Amigone is successful in court.
“We stand firmly against Amigone relocating there. It is a residential neighborhood, and there are small children whose backyard bumps up against the proposed crematory site,” Heaney said.
“We hope Amigone will be able to find a location that is truly not residential.”