Veteran cemetery site in South Barrington still the VA's choice; neighbors have concerns
An updated federal report states that a South Barrington site unveiled last year remains the best choice for a national veterans columbarium cemetery after concerns such as noise, traffic and whether the land is appropriate were taken into consideration.
That recently released U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs document served as the backdrop for a town hall meeting Thursday night hosted by South Barrington Mayor Paula McCombie. About 200 people who packed village hall heard McCombie, suburban military veterans and others urge the VA to find another site in South Barrington.
"South Barrington is a patriotic community," said retired Army Major Gen. James H. Mukoyama Jr., who attends Willow Creek Community Church in the village. "But there's certain things in this proposal that doesn't pass my common-sense test."
Under what's called an urban initiative, the VA wants to acquire 15 acres on the southwest corner of Mundhank and Freeman roads for the 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.
Rifle volleys honoring veterans would occur before they are laid to rest, which has drawn concerns from residents living near the vacant 15 acres. Cook County's Paul Douglas Forest Preserve is on the eastern edge of the site, with a southern entrance to Willow Creek, two residential subdivisions and a closed municipal waste landfill nearby.
McCombie said South Barrington is preparing a response to the latest site assessment and will file it before a public comment period ends Nov. 18. Speakers at Thursday's town hall gathering echoed previous village concerns such as access and potential odors from the shuttered landfill that would make the VA's preferred property for the cemetery unfit for veterans.
"South Barrington is working to find an honorable, respectful, visible site for a columbarium within South Barrington," McCombie said. "We've identified a better site in South Barrington, which the VA has not yet seen. And we hope the VA will investigate it before making a final decision. I've been asked by the owner of this property to notify the VA. And I can tell you that this is a site the village and the veterans would be very proud of."
Vacant parcels off Higgins Road across the street from The Arboretum of South Barrington shopping center had been suggested and regarded to have potential, but the VA noted they are not for sale.
VA officials said 11 alternative sites were explored since initial feedback about the proposal was received in November 2018. The properties were in Palatine, Hawthorn Woods, Addison, Round Lake, Elgin, Roselle, Kildeer, Lake Zurich, Highland Park and Chicago, and they "did not fully meet all of the selection requirements for the proposed project."
Staffers from the offices of U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi attended Thursday's session in South Barrington. No one from the VA was publicly identified as being there.
As part of the VA plan, a main entrance wall and gate would lead 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.
South Barrington village board members 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 the two nearby subdivisions off Freeman.