Clean-up is underway for a new nature preserve at Rosehill Cemetery, thanks to a project spearheaded by Ward 40 Ald. Patrick O’Connor.
Approximately 20 of the cemetery’s 350 acres will be converted into a park space with paths and trails, O’Connor said. He estimates the park will be open by the end of 2013.
The Chicago Park District is cleaning the area now and creating designs for the space. Once that’s done, O’Connor said he’d hold neighborhood meetings for feedback.
The preserve will stretch one block south of West Peterson almost to Bryn Mawr and to the first big service road, about 20 acres.
“I’m very proud that it’s coming together,” O’Connor said. “The opportunity to find 20-some acres to add as green space that would be open to the city I thought would be a real plus for our community and for the North Side.”
The park space ends a 30-year battle over the land.
Rosehill Cemetery is unique in that when people purchased space for graves, they owned the plots like any other piece of land or house property.
In the 1980s, Potter Palmer III bought the cemetery from shareholders and tried to build a Jewel-Osco grocery store and other commercial developments.
“Over the years, there has always been an attempt by the owners of the cemetery to develop things here,” O’Connor said. “It was clear the neighborhood didn’t want commercial developments to take large chunks of the cemetery.”
Palmer wanted to create more developments and got into a legal battle with Chicago billionaire Lester Crown in the 1980s.
As a result of the lawsuit, the cemetery was divided into covenants, which separated what parts of the cemetery could be sold or developed. The undeveloped covenants could only be used for graves or green space, O’Connor said.
Palmer sold the cemetery to Texas-based Service Corporation International (SCI) in 1991. O’Connor said SCI, who owns Drake and Son Funeral Home south of the cemetery on North Western, wanted to move the funeral parlor to the northwest corner of Peterson and Western avenues.
With that stipulation, the city was able to purchase the 20.5-acre plot for approximately $8 million. Then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel earmarked funds to help purchase the property late last year, O’Connor said.
Another ordinance rezoned the southern portion of the cemetery for future senior housing. O’Connor said no specific project is planned at this time.