Trust offers to buy Crown Hill land where VA plans national cemetery

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A locally based charitable trust is offering to purchase nearly 15 acres north of Crown Hill Cemetery in an effort to keep the wooded land from becoming a national cemetery.

The Dr. Laura Hare Charitable Trust announced Tuesday afternoon that it has presented the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs with a “negotiable” offer to purchase the property. The offer also would help the VA recover expenses related to its plans.

The VA paid $810,000 in September 2015 for the site on the northern border of the cemetery, which would include columbaria for housing cremated remains of veterans and eligible family members. Its entrance is slated for the intersection of 42nd Street and Fairview Terrace on the city’s north side.

The trust said it hopes to hear from the VA regarding its offer within the next few weeks. A spokeswoman for the VA's National Cemetery Administration acknowledged Tuesday that it had received an inquiry from the trust and was reviewing the information.

"This land has always been zoned and intended for cemetery development and use, and is now being carefully planned to benefit veterans, spouses and eligible family members in that manner," spokeswoman Jessica Schiefer wrote in an email to IBJ.

Plans from the VA to build the national cemetery have spurred protests from environmentalists who object to the removal of old-growth trees at the site, some of which they say are at least 300 years old.

VA officials have indicated to the trust that they might attempt to work around the largest of the trees when constructing the columbarium, the trust said. But trust officials remain concerned about the forest and the risk to the remaining trees.

“All of us honor and value our veterans and support the expansion of burial services for them,” the trust said in a statement. “We believe there are more suitable locations and are hopeful that our offer to purchase the parcel from the VA will enable them to find a more suitable site for the development that can be celebrated by all.”

If successful, the trust said it would make the site open to the public for passive recreation while preserving the forest.

The VA in September revealed designs for the national cemetery during a public session, in which it presented renderings of the cemetery’s entrance, the columbaria and other features.

The 14.75-acre parcel would be considered part of Crown Hill National Cemetery, which already exists nearby on 2.5 acres. The national cemetery is owned and operated by the VA. It is separate from Crown Hill Cemetery, which is open to the public.

Laura Hare was a medical doctor who worked at the Indiana University School of Medicine. The lifelong Indianapolis resident, who died in 2006 at age 100, was a wildlife enthusiast who enjoyed developing animal habitats outside her home.

Jill Hoffmann, a spokeswoman for the trust, said it hopes the VA will accept the offer and consider other land at the cemetery that might be available.

“We think there are some other options at Crown Hill that would not involve the property with the old growth on it,” she said.

The trust has money available to purchase the land and would not need to embark on a fundraising campaign, she said.

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