Middletown funeral home owner responds to crematory controversy

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (WHTM) — People are pushing back against a proposed crematory on Union Street.

The owner of Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home is talking about plans for the facility.

Before Travis Finkenbinder testified before the Middletown Zoning Hearing Board, he spoke with ABC27’s Mike Parker to explain his side of the crematory controversy, which he calls a “witch hunt” by a very small group of local residents.

“We believe it’s less than one percent of people that are against us,” Finkenbinder said. “We think it is a small minority, 15 to 30 people.”

Finkenbinder said he understands why some people have questions and concerns about the proposed crematory he’d like to build on his funeral home property, but he thinks misinformation has gone too far. Yard signs bearing his name warn of toxins that could hurt toddlers. Others warn of the ’24/7 Invasion of the Body Burners.’

“The first thing I wanted to do when they had the signs is I wanted to have a sign that said ‘Love Thy Neighbor,’ said Finkenbinder, who ultimately decided against posting signs of his own. “I didn’t want it to come across as condescending or antagonistic. We’re not perfect. We will forgive and forget. I just wish that the same humble nature would have been extended to us, versus hiring political activists and spending money, unnecessary money. If I believed in any way that putting a crematory in this building would be detrimental to this business, I wouldn’t do it.”

The group Middletown Citizens Awareness Network has organized against the crematory. They have said it was approved too quickly and shouldn’t qualify as an accessory use of the property.

Finkenbinder countered that argument during his testimony before the zoning hearing board. He also fought back against opponents who say the crematory could operate around the clock, performing human cremations on-demand for surrounding funeral home companies that could hire Finkenbinder as a third-party vendor. Finkenbinder says the type of cremation unit he is purchasing is incapable of operating constantly, and he only expects to perform two to four cremations per week, based on current business. He said he does intend to bring bodies from his four other Midstate funeral homes to the Middletown crematory, but does not intend to operate as a third party to other funeral homes seeking cremation services.

“It’s hocuspocus, if you will. It’s liberal sensationalism at its finest to get people really wound up. There’s no data, no studies to support any of those claims,” he said, referring to the alleged negative public impact of a crematory located within a residential neighborhood. “They are very, very clean burning. At 1,800 degrees, there will be no black smoke. There is minimal particulate matter. It’s all regulated by the DEP.”

Thursday’s zoning board hearing is the third at which testimony was presented on behalf of both sides of the issue. Once hearings are concluded, the board will have up to 45 days to decide if the appeal can continue or the crematory project can proceed.

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