Ceme­tery pro­posal comes with sub­plots

As part of ex­pan­sion of mil­i­tary rest­ing places for cre­mated re­mains, the VA is plan­ning a site on 15 acres in South Bar­ring­ton, but neigh­bors worry about gun salutes, prop­erty val­ues

Chicago Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By Ted Gre­gory

On the Thurs­day night be­fore Vet­er­ans Day, a meet­ing room at a Hoff­man Es­tates ho­tel was re­served for pub­lic com­ment on a pro­posed mil­i­tary vet­er­ans ceme­tery in neigh­bor­ing South Bar­ring­ton. They needed a big­ger room. More than 100 peo­ple jammed the space, spilling into the hall­way. And the over­whelm­ing sen­ti­ment ex­pressed to­ward the ceme­tery might come as a sur­prise: not in my back­yard.

“No­body’s against vet­er­ans here or a vet­er­ans ceme­tery,” Adam Stec, whose South Bar­ring­ton home is 80 yards from the pro­posed ceme­tery’s prop­erty line, said at the pub­lic hear­ing. Rather, he said, the plan would cre­ate is­sues for both neigh­bor­hood res­i­dents and vet­er­ans’ fam­i­lies.

Ri­fle salutes at mil­i­tary fu­ner­als would trau­ma­tize kids in the neigh­bor­hood next to the pro­posed ceme­tery, Stec said. At the same time, noise from the res­i­den­tial area — like from chil­dren play­ing out­side — might dis­rupt the tran­quil­ity of the ceme­tery.

“In the era of mass shoot­ings and ac­tive shooter drills, the last thing you want for the kids is to hear gun­shots close to their house,” said Stec, fa­ther of two small chil­dren.

The up­roar over 15 acres on the cor­ner of Free­man and Mund­hank roads, about 35 miles north­west of Chicago, has arisen as the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs is work­ing on a na­tion­wide ex­pan­sion of mil­i­tary colum­baria, which are fi­nal rest­ing places for cre­mated re­mains.

New colum­baria are planned for the Los An­ge­les, In­di­anapo­lis, San Fran­cisco and New York City areas, said Glenn Mad­derom, chief of ceme­tery devel­op­ment for the Na­tional Ceme­tery Ad­min­is­tra­tion, part of the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs.

Their aim is to make ac­cess eas­ier for vet­er­ans’ fam­i­lies in ur­ban areas across the coun­try and ac­com­mo­date in­creas­ing num­bers of vet­er­ans choos­ing cre­ma­tion, Mad­derom said.

De­vel­oped as a branch of Abra­ham Lin­coln Na­tional Ceme­tery in El­wood, south of Joliet, the South Bar­ring­ton colum­bar­ium would in­clude about 5,000 niches, or cube-

“In the era of mass shoot­ings and ac­tive shooter drills, the last thing you want for the kids is to hear gun­shots close to their house.” — Adam Stec, of South Bar­ring­ton

shaped con­tain­ers for ashes, as well as land­scap­ing, a memo­rial marker, re­strooms, an elec­tronic gravesite lo­ca­tor and park­ing, ac­cord­ing to the VA’s 62-page re­port on the project.

An es­ti­mated three to five ri­fle vol­leys would oc­cur each week­day, Mad­derom said, and fu­neral pro­ces­sions would typ­i­cally be five to 25 ve­hi­cles.

The site would be de­signed to be “peace­ful, dig­ni­fied and con­tem­pla­tive,” the re­port says.

The at­mos­phere at Thurs­day night’s pub­lic hear­ing was any­thing but that. For 90 min­utes, an emo­tion­ally charged and de­fi­ant group chal­lenged Mad­derom and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tant Liz Estes.

Like Stec, sev­eral peo­ple said the sound of gun­fire would trau­ma­tize chil­dren in the area and that other, more suit­able va­cant land was avail­able a few miles away. Oth­ers raised con­cerns about traf­fic back­ups and di­min­ished prop­erty val­ues.

One woman wor­ried about how the gun­fire would af­fect wildlife in the area, specif­i­cally in the nearby Paul Dou­glas For­est Pre­serve, and one man said his re­li­gion pro­hib­ited him from re­sid­ing near a ceme­tery. A cou­ple of peo­ple spoke in fa­vor of the project; one nearby res­i­dent said he was “con­flicted.”

South Bar­ring­ton Mayor Paula McCom­bie ran through what she said were a num­ber of in­ac­cu­ra­cies in the VA’s re­port. She said, for ex­am­ple, it vastly in­flated the num­ber of busi­nesses in the largely res­i­den­tial town of about 4,800, and that the re­port failed to note that the land is flood-prone.

Then, she ac­cused the VA of “dis­re­gard­ing the vil­lage al­to­gether” for fail­ing to con­tact lo­cal of­fi­cials and ex­clud­ing their ob­ser­va­tions and ob­jec­tions in the re­port.

“I think you should be ashamed of your com­mu­ni­ca­tion style,” McCom­bie told Mad­derom. The crowd erupted in ap­plause.

Some at­ten­dees ar­gued with each other.

“It’s a very bad thing to lis­ten to peo­ple here,” said one man who added that he was a Viet­nam War-era vet­eran and resided in South Bar­ring­ton. He said some com­ments were dis­re­spect­ful to vet­er­ans. “I’m just say­ing watch your tone, please.”

The com­ment prompted a woman to re­spond, “I don’t think I have a tone, sir.”

The woman, Raaz Basati, re­sides in the sub­di­vi­sion im­me­di­ately west of the va­cant land and said she is the grand­daugh­ter of a World War II vet­eran and the great-grand­daugh­ter of a World War I vet­eran. She also said she vol­un­teers with North­west Com­pass, a so­cial ser­vices or­ga­ni­za­tion that serves home­less vet­er­ans, among oth­ers in need.

She op­poses the colum­bar­ium, say­ing the site is “non-build­able” and too small to pro­vide quiet places for mourn­ing fam­i­lies.

“My ob­jec­tion to this is on be­half of the vet­er­ans,” Basati said in a Fri­day in­ter­view. “They will be cram­ming the re­mains of the vet­er­ans in” niches, and the re­sult will look like rows of stor­age lock­ers, she said.

Mad­derom said the Na­tional Ceme­tery As­so­ci­a­tion is buy­ing sim­i­lar-sized parcels in the four other met­ro­pol­i­tan re­gions and that “many, many of our na­tional ceme­ter­ies are very close” to res­i­den­tial areas. He also said the NCA has “a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence in mit­i­gat­ing” noise from ri­fle vol­leys.

The agency started work­ing with a real es­tate bro­ker four years ago, so­lic­it­ing landown­ers, Mad­derom said. Nearly 20 re­sponded and the agency looked at about 12 parcels.

It also ap­proached for­est pre­serve dis­tricts in Cook and Lake coun­ties, Mad­derom said. Both “ei­ther can’t or won’t” make room for a colum­bar­ium, he said.

The South Bar­ring­ton land, which Mad­derom said is val­ued at about $1.6 mil­lion, is the right size, near ma­jor roads and com­mer­cial areas, and in an area that can serve a large pop­u­la­tion of vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies who find it chal­leng­ing to drive to Abra­ham Lin­coln Na­tional Ceme­tery, Mad­derom said.

The next step is to fi­nal­ize the agency’s re­port, known as the draft en­vi­ron­men­tal assess­ment, by in­clud­ing pub­lic com­ment made over the next 30 days. If the NCA de­cides to move for­ward with the plan, Mad­derom said the agency can build the colum­bar­ium with­out vil­lage ap­proval.

Ten­ta­tive plans call for con­struc­tion to start in 2020 and the colum­bar­ium to be open one year later, Mad­derom said.

In the hall­way af­ter the meet­ing, Joe Mars, a res­i­dent in the nearby sub­di­vi­sion for 30 years who said he served in the mil­i­tary in the Viet­nam War era, voiced his op­po­si­tion to the ceme­tery.

“Prop­erty val­ues are go­ing to go down­hill,” he said, “way down.” A re­tired at­tor­ney, Mars said lit­i­ga­tion against the NCA is a pos­si­bil­ity.

Next to him was Fred Finn, who said he has resided in the sub­di­vi­sion next to the va­cant land for 19 years. He called the colum­bar­ium “a great use for the prop­erty.” The sam­ple ren­der­ings were beau­ti­ful, Finn said, adding that the noise level of the ri­fle vol­leys would be min­i­mal.

“If they find a bet­ter way to deal with the traf­fic,” Finn said, “I’d be like, ‘Bring it on.’ ”


A vol­un­teer memo­rial squad marches af­ter con­duct­ing a 21-gun salute dur­ing a mil­i­tary fu­neral for Army vet­eran Michael Ber­illa, 74, on Fri­day at Abra­ham Lin­coln Na­tional Ceme­tery in El­wood. A pro­posed vet­er­ans ceme­tery in South Bar­ring­ton has met with op­po­si­tion.


Part of 15 acres near Free­man and Mund­hank roads, about 35 miles north­west of Chicago, is where the VA is hop­ing to de­velop the land for cre­mated re­mains as an ex­ten­sion of Abra­ham Lin­coln Na­tional Ceme­tery.


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