A nearly ten year old plan to use part of Rosehill Cemetery as a nature preserve is nearing an important decision point as a Chicago City Council committee is set to approve a settlement Tuesday with the cemetery on a seizure of the property.
The plan, which will be funded mostly by the Devon-Western Tax Increment Financing district, will purchase 20.5 acres of mostly wild land located near the Peterson and Western intersection for $7,753,000 and an agreement to allow the development of parcels located in the south-west corner of the cemetery under the RM-5 zoning.
The agreement between Service Corporation International, the owner of Rosehill, and the city grew out of concerns about the development of the cemetery, according to legislation. It was a concern shared by neighbors, such as the Bowmanville Community Organization.
The BCO controls a green space at 5384 N Bowmanville Ave. The parcel can be seen on the planned rezoning of Rosehill, springing like a small tooth into the cemetery.
“One goal of the BCO GreenSpace committee remains to acquire as much of that land as possible for dedicated green space,” according to a letter on the BCO site. “The BCO GreenSpace committee already has a list of items or concerns to be considered if and when a planned development emerges for the land.”
The RM-5 designation would allow units of up to four stories to be built. Currently the parcels are zoned C2-2 and RS-1.
Ald. Pat O’Connor, in a letter to neighbors, said the site would be developed as a planned development.
A planned development, according to the city, “would ensure adequate public review, encourage unified planning and development, promote economically beneficial development patterns that are compatible with the character of existing neighborhoods, allow flexibility and encourage the protection and conservation of the city’s natural resources.”
The settlement agreement with SCI calls for at least 300 apartments, as well as offices, food service and other improvements. In addition, the agreement seems to exempt the property from current ordinances regarding providing a minimum number of parking spaces.
The agreement also calls on the city to defend the rezoning on behalf of SCI, if it is challenged. The city also agreed to pay the economic difference if the rezoning attempt is blocked.
According to O’Connor and settlement documents there is no current plan to develop the parcel.
The Devon-Western TIF was formed more than ten years ago. The West Ridge Chamber of Commerce and Ald. Debra Silverstein said the TIF, which draws most of its revenue from the 50th Ward along Devon Ave, was created in anticipation of the purchase of the cemetery parcels.
“My hope is that the nature sanctuary will draw people from across the city and suburbs who will visit nearby businesses” along Devon Ave, Silverstein told The Bulldog in an email.
The TIF collects about $3 million in TIF revenues each year. The TIF was holding about $9.537 million in funds as of 12/31/2009, the most recent annual report available. It would be reasonable to assume the TIF has assets of between $10-14.5 million on hand.
In addition to the seizure of the land at Rosehill, the TIF has a commitment of $2 million for Small Business Improvement Funds.
There are no plans, according to documents obtained by The Bulldog, to develop the nature preserve parcels to the level of a park.
SCI, the recipient of the funds, is an international company and the dominant public player in the cemetery industry. In 2010 the company had $2.19 billion of revenue and net income of $127 million.
Despite the recession, net income has increased at SCI.
SCI came to own the cemetery through a merger with Blake-Lamb Funeral Homes, Inc. (formerly Rosehill Holdings, Inc., Rosehill Memorial, Inc. and Rosehill Cemetery Co.).
Covenants limit the use of the land so that the tranquility of the cemetery is not disturbed.