Mount Holly neighborhood fights plans for funeral home

·5 min read
Property owner Amy Crocker stands in the sanctuary of Day Star Baptist Church Thursday morning, June 30, 2022, as she hopes to transform the church on Smith Road into a funeral home.
Property owner Amy Crocker stands in the sanctuary of Day Star Baptist Church Thursday morning, June 30, 2022, as she hopes to transform the church on Smith Road into a funeral home.

On a quiet, residential road near Mount Holly, a mortician wants to open up a funeral home. Many in the neighborhood are mobilizing against it.

Amy Crocker, who is from Gaston County but now lives in Clover, South Carolina, asked Gaston County officials to rezone property at 211 Smith Road to allow for commercial use. Crocker, who has been a licensed mortician since 1989, said in an interview that she wants to open her own funeral home in the building that houses Day Star Baptist Church, a small church that has only a handful of members left.

"This is something that I've dreamed about doing for about 10 years. I've talked about this with numerous people," she said.

The county held a public hearing regarding the rezoning request June 28 because the Board of Commissioners would have to approve the rezoning request before a funeral home could open. At the public hearing Crocker didn't speak, but many from the neighborhood near the church did.

Property owner Amy Crocker shows a drawing of plans she has for the exterior of Day Star Baptist Church as she hopes to transform the church on Smith Road into a funeral home.
Property owner Amy Crocker shows a drawing of plans she has for the exterior of Day Star Baptist Church as she hopes to transform the church on Smith Road into a funeral home.

Gail McDonald, who lives on Smith Road directly across from the church, was one of many who said she didn't want the zoning changed. She said she used to live on South Point Road in Belmont, where more than 100 residents had their well water contaminated with coal ash from Duke Energy's Allen power plant. Although Duke insisted the water wasn't tainted, the company provided residents with bottled water. She worries her well water will be contaminated on Smith Road by chemicals from the funeral home, which would also house a crematorium.

"I have been a victim already of water contamination," she said. "I lived off South Point Road and suffered through Duke Power. That's why I moved to Smith Road. So I do not want to have to go through something like that again, because I don't see this funeral home providing me with water for several years if something happened."

She added that her 2-year-old grandson lives with her, and she also worries about the traffic the funeral home could create.

Another Smith Road neighbor who spoke, David Fraley, said that his wife for the last 16 years has run a home daycare out of their house. He worries how the presence of a funeral home would affect her ability to attract future business.

"We see this place from our front door, and in addition to everything else they've mentioned, we're worried how it would adversely affect her ability to attract future business. Not sure people are gonna want to leave their kids at a daycare next to a crematorium or funeral home," he said.

Crystal Watkins, also of Smith Road, said that she is opposed to rezoning the property for commercial use, regardless of whether a funeral home opens up in the church.

"My biggest concern I think would be the traffic causing us to be basically trapped down there whenever there's a funeral procession. … And really, … even if the funeral home were to fail or she would decide to go in a different direction, (commercial zoning) can allow a lot of different intrusive businesses to basically set up shop there," she said. "Smith Road just wasn't built for a lot of traffic like that."

Jennie Legendy, who lives on Greendale Drive, which runs parallel to Smith Road, also spoke, telling the Board of Commissioners that her rear driveway faces the church.

"I ask that when you consider the applicant's request, that you ask yourself if you're hearing facts or diluted truths or misrepresentations," she said.

Legendy said that rezoning the road for any commercial business would likely affect those who live in the area.

She said that funeral homes and crematoriums are "notorious" for polluting the area and creating unpleasant smells, and she and others are concerned that the presence of the funeral home in a residential area could negatively impact their property values, the quality of their water, the feel of the neighborhood, the traffic patterns, "and ultimately, the sanctity of our quiet little area," bringing nonresidents and funeral traffic to a dead-end street.

"The reputation our neighborhood now enjoys will be destroyed," she said.

Legendy said in an interview on Wednesday that she has lived on Greendale since 2015, and before that she also lived on South Point Road and had to drink bottled water.

She said that she and other neighbors are organizing to fight the rezoning request, and that they might try to buy the property.

"It's a doable thing for us to buy it," she said. "If we can't win, we're going to buy it from her. … But we do plan on winning."

Crocker said that she wants the residents of the neighborhood to know that she was listening to their concerns. She said that she is willing to attempt to try to obtain a kind of rezoning permit that would allow the county to set specific conditions for her use of the property in hopes of easing the neighborhood's fears.

"I'm a native of Gaston County. I'm a product of Gaston County Schools, I taught in Gaston County 15 years, so I am a Gaston County native. I'm not an outsider. They don't know that," she said. "Everything that they said was legit, and I wanted to hear what they had to say."

Crocker said that her father, Jim High, was a deacon at the church and helped build the building.

"I bought the property from the church to try to protect the church from being sold. Only six to eight members attend right now. A lot of their members were older and have passed away," she said.

She said that the funeral home would be a small family business.

"It's just me. I'm the only one," she said.

She said that she asked for commercial zoning because it allows for a crematorium and a cemetery on the property, and that she would not be able to discharge waste into the septic system. She would be required to have a holding tank, "and a local environmental company would come and pump that just like they would do any of their septic tanks in the neighborhood."

As for selling the property?

"That is a decision that would have to be made with lots of prayer," she said. Because her father helped build the church, the building has sentimental value to her.

"It would be very, very difficult to do for me emotionally," she said.

Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 704-869-1850 or at kfohner@gannett.com. Support local journalism by subscribing here.

Property owner Amy Crocker looks out through the glass of the front doors of Day Star Baptist Church Thursday morning, June 30, 2022, as she hopes to transform the church on Smith Road into a funeral home.
Property owner Amy Crocker looks out through the glass of the front doors of Day Star Baptist Church Thursday morning, June 30, 2022, as she hopes to transform the church on Smith Road into a funeral home.

This article originally appeared on The Gaston Gazette: Mount Holly neighborhood says no to crematorium and funeral home