Akron officials approve funeral home in Portlandville Heights

Posted February 28, 2019 at 6:00 am

By Julie Ann Madden

2019 AKRON FUNERAL HOME PRELIM.pdf

Rexwinkel Funeral Homes Drawing

Portlandville Heights neighbors shared their funeral home concerns — embalming chemical pollution, increased traffic and decreased property values — with Akron Board of Adjustment members at their Feb. 20 meeting to approve a Special Exemption Use in the residential subdivision.

As the meeting began, Board of Adjustment Member Angela Ericson made a motion to reschedule this meeting as inclement weather may have kept more people from attending the meeting. People may have thought this meeting was not going to be held as so many area events and activities were cancelled earlier in the day.

Akron City Clerk Melea Nielsen explained all property owners in the Portlandville Heights Sixth Addition had received letters notifying them of this meeting even though the law states only property owners within 200 feet of the proposed Special Exemption Use must be informed.

None were called the day of the meeting, reaffirming city officials were still having the meeting but she noted there were other people attending the meeting who weren’t required to be notified.

Ericson’s motion died as no other board member would second it.

Funeral Home Plans

According to Rexwinkel Funeral Homes – Schroeder Chapel owner Dan Rexwinkel, the plan is to construct a 90’ long by 60’ wide building parallel to Iowa Highway 3 on Lot 1, which is the next lot south of the Akron Fire Station.

The new facility will be a “fully functioning funeral home,” said Rexwinkel, explaining it will include a Selection Room for people to make funeral arrangements, two rest rooms, a chapel that will seat up to 150 people with an adjacent Fellowship Hall for funeral luncheons.

There will also be a Preparation (Embalming) Room in the single-story facility but there will not be a crematory.

The front of the structure will face east into its parking lot, which will have a minimum of 40 parking spaces, he said. The parking lot entrance will be on Torbert Boulevard so as to give drivers more time to adjust to highway traffic speeds which are 45 to 55 mph at that point. Traffic may also be routed through Portlandville Heights to enter the highway at a lower speed area as many funeral attendees are elderly.

There will be a garage door on the east side at the north end of the building. On the west side of the building, facing Ridge Road Drive, there will be a small driveway to a walk-in door for catering, floral delivery and other services.

Rexwinkel told the audience Lot 1’s hill in the southwest corner would be used to level the lot more, and the building will fit visually into the residential neighborhood with exterior siding and stone on its front. He also plans to have the facility’s exterior utility systems hidden behind vinyl fencing.

As for concerns of embalming chemical toxins, Rexwinkel noted there are no rules or regulations for formaldehyde, which is the main chemical component used in embalming. During the process, it is disposed of in the sanitary sewer system.

According to Rexwinkel, it is not a cancer-causing agent.

“Obviously, we all have household chemicals in our homes,” said Rexwinkel. “Those can be just as toxic and harmful to the environment as formaldehyde.”

The Preparation Room is locked so the general public cannot get into that room where the chemicals are stored, and the Akron Fire & Rescue Department has a list of chemicals and their location in case of an emergency, he said.

Portlandville Heights residents present were concerned about children’s safety with the increased traffic a funeral home would bring as well as how it would affect the dynamic of their neighborhood.

It was suggested to have the entrance off the highway but city officials were concerned about Iowa Department of Transportation requirements.

Audience members also said it was dangerous in that area with the highway’s speed limits and proximity to the Akron Care Center and Akron Fire Station. They suggested having the area made a “No Passing” zone and hanging a yellow caution light similar to the one at Eight Street and Iowa Highway 12.

Neighbors were also concerned about having their driveways blocked by vehicles during funerals.

If a funeral will have a visitation with many people and the deceased had a church affiliation, Rexwinkel tries to have the visitation and funeral service at churches but he noted more and more people are just having everything at funeral homes.

“Seventy-five percent of the reason why we moved up there was it’s quiet,” said Portlandville Heights resident Luke Nixa, adding there were no commercial businesses and no constant traffic. A funeral home will change the dynamics of the neighborhood.

“I don’t want my kids that close to that much traffic,” said Portlandville Heights resident Lucas Stabe. “I grew up on the same block as a funeral home but not with my kids.”

“I love that you’re going to build in town but other than right there,” said Portlandville Heights resident Jeff Rozell, who was opposed to a commercial business in a residential area.

Another Portlandville Heights resident, Matt Brau, brought up the issue of a funeral home causing property valuations to decrease.

A discussion of possible other locations included the Akron Business/Industrial Park; the vacant lot between Dollar General and the city’s boat ramp along Iowa Highway 12; on the east side of town by the city’s water tower off Ninth Street; and in the farm field just north of the Akron Care Center.

The visibility, ease of access for people looking for the funeral home and lot size were priorities for Lot 1, said Rexwinkel who was willing to check into a highway entrance and to put a stop sign on the exit of the parking lot.

“I think it’s a great asset for the town,” said Sue Gabel of Akron, adding the location fit with the nearby fire station and nursing home…better to live by funeral home than fire station.

However, several of the neighbors preferred the fire station than living near a funeral home with its “stigma.”

When Ericson asked the neighbors to rate their pain of having a funeral home in their neighborhood, they responded “on the high side,” “5 to 10” on a scale with 10 as most painful, and “7.”

“Being right across the street, I don’t like it,” said Stabe.

Not hearing a “10,” Ericson felt they trusted Rexwinkel and there could be “some sort of working room there.”

It was also noted the Akron Development Corporation is planning to build a residential spec house in the lot just north of Stabe’s home this summer.

“It’s not like we have funerals every day,” said Stan Rolfes of Akron. “If we have one a week, we’re having a lot of funerals. Sometimes it’s one a month; sometimes it’s seven a month but it’s not every day.”

Board Member Keith Colt made the motion to approve the Special Exemption, and Board Member Nick Mathistad seconded it. The vote was unanimous. In addition to Ericson, Colt and Mathistad, the other board members are Paul Bernard and Bill Rabey. Also present was Trent Ruhland who is the city’s zoning administrator.

Rexwinkel plans to start construction this spring with completion by this fall.

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