VA agrees to new cemetery location that maintains old-growth forest

May 5, 2017

The old-growth forest north of Crown Hill Cemetery will be preserved under an agreement reached by the cemetery and the Department of Veterans Affairs after a months-long dispute over the federal government's plan to build a series of columbariums in an area that contains trees that are hundreds of years old.

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly announced in a statement that the groups will pursue a land swap that would allow a national cemetery to be built on an adjacent parcel of land owned by the cemetery. The federal columbariums will now be located on the northeast corner of the Crown Hill property, off 42nd Street and Clarendon Road and will house the cremated remains of veterans and eligible family members.

“I am pleased that the VA and Crown Hill have come to an agreement to pursue a land swap that would allow the project to move forward without impacting the forest,” Donnelly said in the statement. “This project is about our veterans, who deserve access to burial sites closer to their communities and their families.

“We always achieve more when we work together, which is why I asked the VA to engage with all stakeholders to ensure this project is a win for veterans and the entire Indianapolis community.”

The VA paid $810,000 in September 2015 for 14.75 acres on the northern border of Crown Hill to create the cemetery.

But the plan spurred vehement opposition from environmentalists and nearby residents who objected to the planned removal of old-growth trees at the site, some of which they say are at least 300 years old.

Protesters won a round in the dispute in March when the VA paused its plan.

Crown Hill President Keith Norwalk said Friday that the “solution really is a win-win situation for the community, for Crown Hill and the VA.”

Norwalk said the new columbarium site was intended for future burial space, but it’s basically a blank canvas. It is a similar size to the 14.75 acres that the VA will be giving back to the cemetery.

“It’s going to be a very attractive space and they’ll be providing some embellishments to it that currently are not there,” Norwalk said. They made “a tremendous commitment to landscaping" the new area, he said.

Mayor Joe Hogsett, who had called for the VA to find a new location, on Friday said news of the agreement makes “a great day for the people of Indianapolis, whose voices have ensured that future generations can enjoy an old-growth forest which represents a unique piece of our city’s natural heritage.”

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