National veterans cemetery in South Barrington: How about a different spot in town, leaders say
Concerns about traffic, noise and the suitability of a South Barrington site proposed as home to a new national veterans cemetery are being taken into consideration as studies on the idea continue, according to the federal agency driving the effort.
But in the meantime, South Barrington leaders who see the proposed location as incompatible for a cemetery are instead suggesting other potential sites in town.
Under what's called an urban initiative, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs wants to acquire 15 acres on the southwest corner of Mundhank and Freeman roads for a columbarium cemetery to serve the Chicago area. It would be an extension of the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, about 57 miles southwest of downtown Chicago.
Documents show federal officials are developing a master plan starting with 5,000 niches for cremated remains that would be placed in a series of walls. The number of niches would grow to 50,000 over 100 years.
The VA's National Cemetery Administration is reviewing feedback from a November public comment period as it prepares an updated draft assessment of the site.
Les' A. Melnyk, chief of public affairs and outreach for the VA's cemetery administration, said an updated report is expected by midsummer. There will be a 30-day community comment opportunity after its release.
Melnyk said the VA is "actively reviewing" concerns about traffic, noise and other possibly negative effects on nearby residents.
"These efforts include evaluating alternate properties submitted during and after the (November) public comment period that were not identified in previous land searches, and conducting the necessary due diligence to determine their suitability," Melnyk said.
South Barrington Mayor Paula McCombie stresses she and other village officials welcome the proposed veterans cemetery, but they say the VA's location is not the best possible spot.
Cook County's Paul Douglas Forest Preserve is on the eastern edge of the site, she notes, and an entrance to Willow Creek Community Church and a closed municipal waste landfill also sit nearby.
"Let's find another location in town," McCombie said. "Let's look a little bit instead of just sticking people back over in a corner there."
McCombie said there are more visible and accessible properties, such as part of 45 acres off Higgins Road directly across from The Arboretum of South Barrington shopping center.
In its formal response to the VA, the village also suggested 16 acres behind the AMC South Barrington 24 movie theater.
Some suburban veterans are backing South Barrington's push for a different location. They include Marco Dabetic of Schaumburg, a Marine veteran who served in Vietnam.
Dabetic, past commander of Schaumburg VFW Post 2202, said it would be inappropriate for the VA to place the columbarium in the vicinity of a shuttered landfill that can have "a smell about it." He said the better choice would be the property across from The Arboretum.
"It's right off the highway, basically," said Dabetic, who is working with other veterans to encourage the VA to look elsewhere.
Under the VA proposal, memorial ceremonies would occur at the cemetery, including rifle volleys honoring veterans before they are laid to rest. The rifle fire is expected three to five times per weekday when burials take place.
Melnyk said the VA will have results from a noise study in the updated draft report.
The proposal also calls for a main entrance wall and gate leading into the cemetery.
There would be natural and ornamental landscaping, a funeral cortège parking area, 30-by-30-foot committal service shelter, a memorial marker wall and a roughly 1,300-square-foot public information and restroom building where visitors could use an electronic gravesite locator.
McCombie said the South Barrington village board would have no say in development of the cemetery if the 15 acres at Freeman and Mundhank are purchased by the federal government.
For now, the land is designated for single-family houses on 1-acre lots, similar to two nearby subdivisions off Freeman.
"Once they buy it, they can do whatever they want to do with it," McCombie said. "They override any local zoning."