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Second Woodbury funeral home nears

Woodbury will soon have a second funeral home, a family-owned business that has been looking to join the community for more than a decade.

Woodbury Planning Commission members approved a conditional-use permit for O'Halloran & Murphy funeral home at the Aug. 1 meeting. City Council also approved the recommendation at Wednesday's meeting.

Owners of the St. Paul-based funeral home and cremation service, John and Michael O'Halloran, first submitted an application in 2000 to build the funeral home in the Reliance City Center East complex. But the project was stalled when another opportunity came up.

"Now this year, I am president and owner of the firm since 2008 ... and wanted to proceed with the project that was once put in the back seat," Michael O'Halloran said. "Now is the best time for us anyway as a corporation to expand."

The fifth-generation president is eager to start building the 12,617-square foot funeral home, which will be located at the northeast corner of Valley Creek Road and Donegal Drive.

The city originally approved the same application in 2001 with the exception of funeral procession routes. The new permit modifies the routes and allows them to use the Valley Creek Road and Radio Drive intersection.

O'Halloran said the number of processions went from about one every week down to 1.7 every seven weeks, which is the reason for the modification.

"Since cremation is now nearly 50 percent, that has significantly reduced the number of processions," O'Halloran said. "It's more economical in some perspective for some folks to choose cremation rather than to have a full traditional burial."

The funeral home does not, however, plan to have a crematorium, -- something a resident of the neighborhood expressed concern about at last Monday's Planning Commission meeting.

George Smolinski, who lives at the 8300 block of Inverness Road -- about a mile away from the proposed site -- questioned whether the conditions of the application that ban the funeral home from performing cremation might somehow be amended in the future to allow onsite cremation.

Associate Planner Eric Searles said the intent of the condition is to completely ban the service and a different application and public hearing process would be required if the owners wish to amend the original conditions of the permit.

"I understand all that but what you're telling me is there is wiggle room," Smolinski said.

The funeral home offers cremation services through a separate entity and O'Halloran said he does not intend to add it to the Woodbury site.

"There is some psychological factors with having a cremation retort present near residential areas," he added. "But that concern is kind of not present because it's not going to be in our facility. We're not going to operate an onsite crematory."

Smolinski and his wife, Ruth, were not happy with the way the city released information on the funeral home and said they would've liked more time to give their input.

Planning Commission Chairwoman Nancy Remakel said a neighborhood meeting was held earlier this summer and information was mailed by O'Halloran & Murphy to all residents of the neighborhood.

Residents oftentimes overlook mail that comes from third parties, which is what may have happened in this case, Searles said.

"This is a very poor introduction to the Planning Commission process," Smolinksi said, suggesting information should've been sent out with a city letterhead. "I'm just disappointed in the whole process. It's a bad way to start out."

The conditional-use permit states the project, which is to be built east of Walgreens, will be designed with the same elements of the existing businesses of the district. It will be a one-story structure with shared access to parking spots in the development. The building will have community and children's rooms as well as two chapels for onsite services.

O'Halloran said choosing Woodbury to join the three other locations in St. Paul, Roseville and Elk River, Minn., was a decision made based on growth projections and a market study.

"The population size has increased substantially and we've seen a number of death calls or deceased persons in that county increase," he added.

Tentative construction date is set for September with completion by either mid-winter or spring of 2012.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.