A judge has backed the state Cemetery Board’s determination that Amigone Funeral Home cannot move its cremation operation on Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda to another location.
Amigone and Sheridan Park Inc., its nonprofit crematory, filed a petition earlier this year in State Supreme Court after the Cemetery Board said such a move would violate the Anti-Combination Law of 1998. The state law bans funeral home and cemetery/crematory combinations. The law, enacted seven years after Sheridan Park began its operations at 2600 Sheridan Drive, allowed already-existing crematory and funeral home arrangements.
Last summer, the funeral home asked the state if it would approve relocation of the crematory. The state said no.
The law’s grandfather clause extends only to the crematory in operation at the time the law took effect; it does not extend to any new location, state officials said.
“This court cannot say that the board’s determination is without sound basis in reason, lacks rationality or is taken without regard to the facts,” Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek said in court Thursday in dismissing the funeral home’s petition. “This court cannot substitute its own judgment for that of the administrative agency unless the decision clearly appears to be arbitrary or contrary to law.”
The petition was filed against the state Division of Cemeteries and the Cemetery Board and its members.
Attorney Robert E. Knoer, who represented Amigone, was not available for comment after the ruling. In the petition, he argued the Cemetery Board made an error in interpreting the Anti-Combination Law.
“The law was specifically aimed at preventing future business combinations and was not meant to affect the number or location of crematories themselves,” Knoer said. “The act was not meant to address where or even how many cremations were performed. The exemption in the law was meant to exempt the existing business combinations, not the physical location.”
Michalek, however, said the language of the law’s exemption “does indeed support the board’s determination.”
Sheridan Park operated the crematory for more than 20 years at the same location.
Last summer, the New York State Attorney General’s Office threatened to bring a civil suit to shut down the crematory, according to the petition. The state cited neighbors’ complaints about noise and odors.
Sheridan Park then began the process of relocating the crematory to a less densely populated area, according to the petition, and agreed to cease operations for six months, through Jan. 22, during which time it would secure an alternative location, according to the petition.
After finding a possible new location on Cooper Avenue, in an industrial zone, Sheridan Park sought permission from the Cemetery Board to move operations there.
The business arrangement between Amigone and Sheridan Park at the new location would have been the same as the one now in place at the Sheridan Drive location, and the new crematory would have similar facilities.
Nearby residents of Two Mile Creek Road, which runs parallel to Cooper, opposed the site. Sheridan Park last fall cited neighborhood and state opposition in withdrawing its request for permission to move to a building on Cooper Avenue.