The family-owned business, which also owns funeral homes in Scottdale, Lawrenceville and Buford, backpedaled on its plans in the face of strong opposition from the community.
More than 50 residents showed up at a July 10 community meeting at the funeral home to tell the family they don’t want a crematory in the middle of a heavily residential community.
Speaker after speaker cited health, air quality and environmental concerns and said a crematory would negatively impact their property values.
John Roach from the Churchill Downs subdivision said the community doesn’t want it.
“This is just a small number of the people who don’t want it,” he told the Levetts.
Gil Turman, president of the South DeKalb Neighborhoods Coalition, said residents are concerned about air quality and emissions of mercury.
“The major concern about a crematory is the emissions from burning a corpse that go into the air,” Turman said. “How are you going to stop that. How are you going to control the emissions that will go into the air.”
Turman said the highest rates of respiratory problems, lung cancer and asthma in the county are in South DeKalb because of landfills and items dumped into the area over the years.
Marcia Glenn, who lives nearby, said even though Levett was a good businessman in the community, residents have to look out for their own interests.
“If I live in an apartment, I can move,” she said. “I can’t walk away from a $300,000 mortgage. As property owners we have to do what we can to maintain our property values.”
Janie Leslie, who lives behind the funeral home, said she did not want the crematory so close to her home.
“We beg you to reconsider,” she said.
By the end of the meeting, Gregory Levett, the family patriarch who opened his first funeral home in Scottdale in August 1980, and his sons – Lanier Levett, the company’s chief operating officer, and Bernard Levett, president of B Square Construction – said they will not apply for a Special Land Use Permit to construct the crematory.
“We are done with it,” said Lanier Levett. “Your voices have been heard.”
The room of more than 50 residents, many of them presidents of community and civic associations, erupted in loud cheers.
Second fight against a crematory
This is the second crematory that South DeKalb residents have fought in the past seven years.
In April 2005, the former Sunset Funeral home, now Devine Mortuary, had tried to install an incinerator at its Hillandale Drive location in Lithonia.
After unmovable opposition, the DeKalb Board of Commissioners voted down its SLUP application, saying there were too many questions about regulation and inspection, emissions, odors and noise associated with cremation. The commissioners also expressed concern that approval of one crematory would spur a slew of applications.
After listening to the mounting opposition Tuesday, Lanier Levett took the microphone to say that he grew up in Conyers and if he did wrong on the street, he would get a “whupping” all the way home, and then his parents would “whup” him when he got there.
“Everybody in this room has beaten the mess out of us,” he said. “My behind is sore. Your voices have been heard. There will not be a crematory coming at Gregory B. Levett & Sons Funeral Homes Inc. South DeKalb.”
Levett said that he saw many clients of the funeral home in the room.
“The worst thing we could do is upset anybody we have served and you would not continue to patronize Gregory B. Levett & Sons Funeral Homes,” he said. “I am telling you that there will not be a crematory coming on these premises.”
With the family’s decision, the $800,000 expansion is now $600,000. It includes almost doubling the size of the 8,129-square-foot Flat Shoals location to 14,080 square feet. The 5,951-square-foot expansion includes adding a 1,100-square-foot reception area, five 399-square-foot viewing rooms, a garage and storage rooms. Construction is slated to start by early October and be completed by March 2013.
At the beginning of the meeting, Gregory Levett said he wanted a crematory at the South DeKalb location to serve a growing demand for cremation service from area families. The family operates a crematory at its Buford location.
Levett said that last year, their four locations served 1,020 families, and of those 359 were cremations.
“Of those 329 cremations, over 200 cremations came right here out of South DeKalb county,” he said. “The statistics show us that over the next 10 years, our community will be cremating 60 percent of our family members. This is the way the trend is going.”
The elder Levett said they were considering putting a crematory at their Flat Shoals location because so many families are requesting the service.
“To be honest with you, a lot of people want to do one-stop shopping,” he said.
Levett said that 50 percent of all the business the family does comes from South DeKalb and that it would be more convenient for families to have cremation service closer to home.
“We have to carry them to our Buford location,” he said. “If the family wants to have a service and a repast, we cannot provide these facilities here.”
At the end of the meeting, Levett said that he is a businessman but that he is also a community man.
He said he could not continue to do what he does without the support of the South DeKalb community.
“We are going to continue to support this community and we want this community to continue to support us,” he said.