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Complaints prompt reversal of funeral home vote
By Deborah Donovan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/11/2009 12:00 AM

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How was it that the Arlington Heights Village Board took the unusual step of reversing itself between the first and second votes on a controversial zoning variance request involving a local funeral home?

The village board voted 6-2 last week against the new Lauterberg & Oehler funeral home proposed for Memory Gardens cemetery at Euclid and Waterman avenues. That was a sharp reversal of a 7-1 preliminary vote from the same body in favor of the project on July 20.

Despite the dramatic appearance of the vote swing, this was always a difficult decision, trustees said. And only three trustees and Mayor Arlene Mulder changed their votes because two different trustees were absent at each meeting.

Trustees and Mulder say they were impressed with both the number of complainants and the issues people raised.

Following the decision, management is still considering the future of Lauterberg & Oehler's current funeral home on Northwest Highway and the cemetery, both owned by Service Corporation International, said Stephen Daday, an Arlington Heights attorney who represents SCI.

He said the funeral home is likely to stay in town, but the building does need work, and everything is being evaluated. Daday said his inference at the Aug. 3 meeting that the funeral home could leave Arlington Heights was an answer to a question he was asked.

SCI's refusal to move the proposed location of the funeral home farther east along Euclid, away from the homes on Waterman, carried quite a bit of weight with Mulder and Bert Rosenberg and Norman Breyer, both trustees. Tom Stengren, the other trustee who changed his vote, could not be reached for comment Monday.

"E-mails brought out more and more true sentiment of other neighbors we hadn't heard before at the first meeting," said Rosenberg. At the first meeting where the board voted in favor of the variance, speakers for and against the project were pretty evenly split, he said.

SCI., reportedly the largest funeral and cemetery services company in the United States, did not prove the hardship that the ordinance requires for such a variance, said Mulder.

"They (SCI) did concede a lot of things that were requested by the residents," said the mayor. "The board really wanted them to move it away from Waterman and get rid of those sheds. They (the maintenance sheds) are such an embarrassment, and maintenance of the cemetery was atrocious."

SCI. spokesmen said previously that replacing the sheds could cost $500,000. And Daday said Monday he thought corporate leaders had not known of the complaints about upkeep in the cemetery and have attempted recently to address these issues.

Daday also said at meetings that land at Waterman and Euclid had been on the market for years during booming real estate times, and no one purchased it for uses allowed under the zoning, which include homes and churches.

Breyer said Lauterberg & Oehler lost some of his support when Jim Murray, manager of the funeral home, said many people whose services are held at the funeral home would be buried elsewhere than Memory Gardens.

He had hoped that building a funeral home at the cemetery would decrease the number of funeral processions, which he thinks are dangerous.

He also said he took another look at Memory Gardens before the Aug. 3 meeting and decided there was plenty of room on the cemetery grounds where the funeral home could be situated that would not upset the neighbors so much.