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Funeral home neighboring Greenbridge fights to live

DTH/Ryan Kurtzman
DTH/Ryan Kurtzman

A metal fence is all that divides a small funeral home on North Graham Street from the Greenbridge construction site.

It was also the first official notification Knotts Funeral Home received of Greenbridge’s construction, said Michael Parker, the funeral home branch’s manager.

“They didn’t let us know anything until they started coming in and putting up a fence,” he said.

Since construction of the 135-foot tall sustainable development began in 2008, funeral home employees say they have dealt with falling debris and a dip in business.

Employees are waiting to hear whether the Chapel Hill Town Council can offer them any help for their concerns as they learn to live beside the town’s tallest structure.

A perilous position

Knotts Funeral Homes, a family-owned chain with four locations in the area, began business in Chapel Hill 13 years ago.

The modest funeral home has ties to the historically black neighborhood that surrounds it, Parker said.

Built in about 1940, it originally housed the Chapel Hill Funeral Home, said Parker.

Although the old building has stood the test of time, it hasn’t fared as well with the new construction.

The building and three vehicles parked outside were damaged by falling construction materials, Parker said.

“It has caused this building to leak, the building to separate, the floors to get dusted up from the dust,” he said. “It’s just really torn the building down.”

Judie Rice, one of the home’s two funeral directors, said she worries about structural stability.

“The building has shifted, and you can easily see that,” she said.

Greenbridge spokesman Mark Vevle said the funeral home received compensation for a damaged vehicle but did not confirm or deny any of the other claims.

A decline in business

Lula Knotts-Thomas, the owner of Knotts Funeral Homes, said fewer clients have used the Graham home since construction began.

Potential clients have been discouraged by personal safety and lack of parking concerns, Parker said.

Construction noise also disturbed clients, Rice said.

“The noise level was excruciating for several weeks,” she said.

Knotts-Thomas inquired about selling the property to Greenbridge developers but did not feel they offered her a fair amount.

“They did not give any consideration to the fact that we are an operating business and by selling we would have to reestablish ourselves somewhere else,” she said.

Frank Phoenix, one of the partners of Greenbridge, said the agreement they came to with the funeral home is complicated. He said when the funeral home voices concerns, they are addressed right away.

Rice said she was puzzled by developers’ choice to build next to the funeral home.

“I don’t know who would want to buy a condo next to a funeral home with people bringing dead bodies in and out,” she said.

Waiting for town’s response

After a meeting the funeral home held Jan. 25, owners submitted a resolution to the Town Council.

The resolution states that because of a lack of parking some days, the business has had to reschedule a funeral service, limit employee parking and ask families attending a service to pay for parking meters.

“There’s nothing we can do about the Greenbridge buildings,” Rice said. “They are up. Now we have to find a way to work together.”

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