Commission OKs Special Use for New Cemeteries

By Nick Reiher

Will County residents in unincorporated areas are one step closer to not having to worry about a cemetery suddenly popping up in their neighborhood.

The Will County Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved a text amendment at its June 6 meeting that would require a special use permit, and a hearing, for any new cemetery proposals.

The issue came to light in April when The Muslim Cemetery was able to acquire permits for initial development of a new cemetery on 40 acres along Meader Road, just north of U.S. 6 in Homer Township.

The 40 acres is zoned R-2 residential, allowing for homes in and around the prospective cemetery property. A subdivision annexed to the Village of Homer Glen also is nearby.

Without the special use requirement, officials from The Muslim Cemetery were able to acquire permits from the county without the need to notify surrounding residents of the plan, have a county hearing or final consideration by the Will County Board.

Cemetery officials have said there could be ultimately 24,000 graves on the site.

Along with county Land Use staff, Homer Township officials were aware of the cemetery plans, because cemetery officials also needed permits from the township road commissioner to work on an access road on the permitted 5 acres.

As word got out, Homer Glen Mayor Christina Neitzke-Troike called a town hall meeting May 2 where more than 200 people attended to share their concerns, focusing mostly on the lack of notification and about groundwater contamination, since those village residents near the cemetery are on well and septic.

They also were concerned because the Muslim tradition does not preserve the bodies with chemicals or use caskets and concrete vaults.

The county officials on the dais that evening had few answers, since no one could remember the last time a new cemetery was created in the county. Also, no one remembers why the County Board removed the special use requirement for cemeteries amid its overhaul of zoning laws in 2012.

New Lenox Township Supervisor Cass Wennlund, who lives in the area and has practiced land use law for 30 years, urged residents to demand their County Board members seek a text amendment to the land use regulations that would restore public hearings and notification for all cemeteries.

About 40 people concerned about the issue attended the June 6 Planning and Zoning Commission hearing.

Commission Chair Hugh Stipan warned the residents several times to focus only on the text amendment change; not what could happen with the remaining 35 acres owned by The Muslim Cemetery or any other specific cases.

After the meeting, the Will County Executive’s Office said officials from The Muslim Cemetery have not filed for permits for the remaining land they purchased. The Land Use Department does have a concept plan.

Most people in the audience at the County Board room raised their hands when Stipan asked, “Who wants this text amendment?”

Several testified during the hearing, wondering who has local oversight concerning cemeteries? The answer was no one, with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation in charge of approving cemetery plans.

But among its guidelines for new cemeteries, there are none that require groundwater or soil testing near wells.

The issue now will go to the County Board’s Land Use Committee at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 13, at the Will County Office Building, 302 N. Chicago St., Joliet. The County Board will have the final say at its June 15 meeting at 9:30 a.m. at the same location.

If approved by the County Board, the text amendment reinstating special use permits for all new cemeteries would include review of the following:

  • Published newspaper notice of a hearing and delivered notice to the subject property owner and all owners of property abutting the subject parcel, as well as the clerk of each municipality whose corporate limits are within one and one-half miles of the land that is the subject of the special use permit application.
  • Notice to Soil and Water Conservation District and a written opinion from them.
  • The Zoning Administrator must prepare a report and recommendation that evaluates the proposed special use to determine:
  1. If the establishment, maintenance, or operation of the special use will not be detrimental to or endanger the public’s health, safety, morals, comfort, or general welfare.
  2. That the special use will not be injurious to the use and enjoyment of other property in the immediate vicinity for the purposes already permitted, nor substantially diminish or impair property values within the neighborhood
  3. That the establishment of the special use will not impede the normal and orderly development and improvement of surrounding property for uses permitted in the district.
  4. That adequate utilities, access roads, drainage, and/or other necessary facilities have been or will be provided to serve the proposed use.
  5. That adequate measures have been or will be taken to provide ingress and egress so designed as to minimize traffic congestion in the public streets.
  6. That the special use in all other respects conforms to the applicable regulation of the district in which it is located, except as such regulations may in each instance be modified by the County Board pursuant to the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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