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Council lays to rest funeral home plans

By: Grant Burr

Posted: 04/4/2018 10:45 AM

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We are gathered here today to remember a funeral home that never was.

Steinbach city council could not ignore overwhelming neighbourhood opposition on Tuesday night and chose to deny a conditional use application for a funeral home to be located at 32 Highway 52 West in Steinbach.

The owner of the building, Schinkel Properties, appealed to council on behalf of a prospective funeral home operator.

Justin Schinkel told council the small chapel would host up to 100 attendees, would not cause significant impact on parking or traffic. He indicated the site could support the required 25 parking stalls for the suggested capacity and added that overflow parking was available on Schinkel Properties owned parking lots across Highway 52.

If the request sounded strangely familiar, it was. In October, Schinkel’s father, Bob, made a similar pitch as he requested a parking requirement variance to allow the neighbouring Viet House restaurant to move into the building. Council went along with the variation request at the time on the condition that a parking agreement be established with an adjacent property, not one across the highway.

Six months later, with that plan apparently dead and buried, the new funeral home plan prompted no less questions about parking.

Condo and business owners of the Schinkels’ neighbouring 20 Highway 52 West building spoke out against the plan, with parking the overwhelming issue of the night.

Condo owner Carly Frey shared the frustrations of condo owners who frequently find their parking spots taken up by Viet House restaurant clientele.

"I can’t imagine that problem will get any better with a funeral home," she surmised.

Frey heaped skepticism on Schinkel’s notion that the funeral home could be restricted to 100 guests, arguing funeral attendance is unpredictable.

"It’s not something you sell tickets for," she quipped.

Fellow condo owner Devon Friesen shared about hostile reactions he has received from Viet House customers, who have parked in his assigned parking.

"I do not wish to have altercations with people who are grieving whatsoever," Friesen said.

Business owners from El Vecino Foods and Grand Denture Clinic also spoke out about parking problems that already exist.

The Schinkels’ old foe was there too. Marcel Jodoin reminded council that he spoke out against the plans for the 20 Highway 52 West condo/commercial building in 2011, partly on the grounds of parking concerns for the site.

Jodoin, who has an ownership stake in Kal-Tire, noted that Schinkel’s plan had no space allotted for staff and only one accessible parking stall. He noted that Birchwood Funeral Chapel funeral director Todd Harder told him Birchwood has 175 parking spaces for 300 seats. Even then, Jodoin said Harder indicated that parking can be a challenge on occasion.

"If council approves this we will have a chronic parking problem at this location," he said.

Jodoin’s Kal-Tire business partner, Garry Reimer, added that he didn’t want more overflow parking ending up at his business, something which already occurs from the Schinkels’ 20 Highway 52 development.

He also questioned that adequate overflow parking could be found across Highway 52, agreeing with others who stated it would be extremely difficult for elderly funeral attendees in particular to cross the highway.

Reimer suggested there would be safety concerns for anyone crossing.

"You’re going to be the next person inside that building," he worried.

Justin Schinkel said no parking signs could alleviate some of the parking issues and maintained the project would be a good fit for the neighbourhood. He said one of the building’s previous tenants, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, used the site to do testing for BSE.

"What’s worse? Funerals or testing for mad cow disease?" he wondered.

Mayor Chris Goertzen said the hearing process is a chance for council to hear from the public and, in this case, said the public response was decisive.

"We’ve heard," the mayor said, as council voted unanimously to turn down the application.

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