CHICAGO (STMW) – Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $7.7 million plan to turn 21 acres of woods and wetlands at Rosehill Cemetery into a “mini-Morton Arboretum” sailed through a City Council committee Tuesday despite concern about maintenance and acquisition costs.
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) wondered aloud why the entire cost was being born by the city. After buying the undeveloped land in the northwest corner of the cemetery from Rosehill, the city will turn it over to the Chicago Park District for $1.
The city plans to use $3 million worth of tax-increment-financing (TIF) funds, $2.8 million from Emanuel’s first congressional earmark and city bond money to acquire the land.
“The Park District —do they have any skin in this game?” Dowell asked.
Nelson Chueng, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development, replied that, while city funds were being used to “develop” the site, the Park District would assume the cost of maintenance and programming.
That was not enough to reassure Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th), whose ward includes another conservation area owned by the state.
“It’s all done by volunteers. Sometimes it’s maintained properly. Other times, it’s overgrown,” Cullerton said.
“If the Park District is gonna assume full responsibility for the maintenance so the property doesn’t become an eyesore, that’s important so close to the cemetery. That would be my only concern.”
Since the park has not yet been designed, Park District spokesman Bob Foster had no immediate estimate on maintenance costs. But, he insisted that it would not impose a heavy financial burden.
“It will be very similar to what we have at North Park Village. It’s a nature center, so generally the costs will probably be a little bit lower. It won’t be as intensive landscaping,” Foster said.
“We’ll have walkways. Our crews could fix the asphalt. We’ll trim the trees, etc. So, it won’t be a very high, intensive use park.”
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), whose ward includes Rosehill Cemetery, said the “mini-Morton Arboretum” will forever put to rest concern that the sacred cemetery land would be developed.
That’s been a source of “lawsuits and controversy” for decades, the alderman said.
“Putting commercial enterprises so close to the graves of individuals who, in this cemetery, own a fee-simple gravesite would just not be acceptable to the community and shouldn’t be acceptable to anybody,” O’Connor said.
“What we have got is a covenant that this area that we’re purchasing would be green forever. We would be making one of the largest purchases of green space to be added to the Park District in many, many years.”
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