RICHMOND — Residents agreed to donate town land to a cemetery association so a crematory could be built in Cotton Cemetery despite concerns there was not information about the proposal and when and how it could benefit the town.

Residents at a special town meeting Wednesday night were asked whether they wanted to donate 5.3 acres of town land behind the middle and high schools to the cemetery, a gift that could allow a funeral home to build a crematory there.

About two-thirds of the 27 voters at the meeting voted in favor of the proposal.

The Cotton Cemetery Association has about 16 acres of land in its cemetery off Route 197. However, state law requires associations to own at least 20 acres to build a crematory. And by state law, officials said Wednesday, crematories must be nonprofit entities.

The 5.3 acres voters agreed to give to the association after about an hour and a half of debate is part of a roughly 18-acre parcel behind the schools that has hiking and snowmobile trails and a brook running through it.

Chuck Kincer, owner of Kincer Funeral Home in Richmond, wants to form a nonprofit operation to build and run the crematory, and the cemetery association eventually could receive some of the revenue from its use, Kincer told residents. He said once the costs of building and equipping the crematory were paid off, the cemetery association would get some or all of the revenue generated by the crematory, after the staff, including Kincer himself, is paid for its work there. The cemetery association, in turn, could then use that revenue to help maintain and improve the cemetery grounds.

Kincer also owns Funeral Alternatives, a company with multiple locations in Maine that offers cremation and low-cost burial services. Kincer said he subcontracts with other crematories for cremations now. He said his own business generates more than enough demand for the proposed crematory, and he would not seek to cremate bodies for other funeral homes in Richmond.

“I’d buy everything, pay for the building, and I’m leasing the property from the cemetery association, so I can’t just turn around and sell it for a profit and leave,” Kincer explained. “I front everything. And I take away the middle man. I can take cremations and not charge a very high rate, and not use an outside service. In time, this risk I’m taking — some of this is my own money as well — that debt I’m taking on, will be paid off. As time progresses, and things are paid off, the revenue then goes to the cemetery association, and they can decide what to do with the money.”

Dana Sullivan, president of the cemetery association, said prior to the meeting the crematory could provide revenue to help the association maintain the cemetery.

Peter Gardner, secretary treasurer for the association and sextant of the cemetery, said Wednesday they couldn’t say how much money the crematory could generate for the association, or when, because they don’t know.

Kincer said he didn’t know either.

That was one of the unknowns cited by several residents who voted against the proposal because, they said, while it appeared well-intentioned, it also appeared to lack solid information.

“You’re coming to the town, asking for this, and I’m a member of the town; but you haven’t given me the information I need to make a decision,” Alice Knapp said. “You don’t know anything about the details, where the money is coming from. … Quid pro quo, if we’re going to give you something, I want to know there will be a benefit to the town. I’m sure it is well-intentioned, but we’re being asked to give something as townspeople, without knowing there will be a benefit to us.”

Kincer said the proposal would allow him to add at least one more job. He said his goal for the plan isn’t direct financial gain but, rather, helping his business be able to compete better by being able to offer cheaper cremation services. He said once the cost of building and equipping it, and staff costs, are covered, the remaining revenue would go to the cemetery association.

In 2010, a cemetery association in neighboring Gardiner struggled to get approval for a crematory. The Oak Grove Cemetery Association wanted to build the crematory at its 27-acre cemetery in a residential area, but neighbors objected and the City Council voted it down in 2010.

The association later opened a crematory in the city’s Libby Hill Business Park.

Richmond voters asked about the potential for pollution, or odors, coming from cremating bodies.

Kincer said the industry is highly regulated and there would be no smell or pollution from the crematory, nor would there be any smoke. He said the only thing that would be visible coming from the crematory would be heat lines, similar to those rising from pavement on a hot day.

Resident Fred Browne, a neighbor of Kincer, said he’d “Googled” information about crematories and found articles on people who said they could smell corpses being cremated at crematories. He acknowledged there probably were just as many articles, if not more, that said there is no smell from them. He said he was inclined to accept Kincer’s word on it, because he is an expert on the topic.

Browne joked it was important to resolve the issue to everyone’s satisfaction, because “I plan to be cremated, so (Kincer) is going to be the last person I do business with.”

Selectmen noted that before a crematory actually could be built on the site, construction would require Planning Board approval.

Gardner said the additional 5 acres will not change the cemetery’s visual footprint, because the new land is so hilly it could not be used for gravesites. The crematory, according to a simple map distributed at Wednesday’s meeting, would be toward the back of the existing cemetery property.

Peter Warner, chairman of the selectmen, said the town-owned land to be given to the association has Baker Brook running through it and is undevelopable.

Warner said the town would keep residents informed about developments of the land deal and potential development of a crematory.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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