Penn Hills council voted Monday night to approve a conditional use and zoning amendment that will allow the construction of a green burial site adjacent to Penn Hills Community Park.
The approval was sought by green burial advocate Peter McQuillin, that will allow his for-profit land restoration and cemetery company, Land Conservation Cemeteries, to construct the cemetery.
The wooded 30-acre plot, to be named Penn Forest Natural Burial Park, will house an all-green cemetery and wildlife sanctuary wreathed by a walking trail.
Green or natural burial, a growing but still relatively new trend in the United States, makes the reduction of one's environmental footprint after death its overarching goal. Green burial dispenses with traditional but environmentally harmful practices like formaldehyde embalming, and burial in ornate caskets and vaults.
Instead, bodies are shrouded and placed in biodegradable wood caskets; graves are designated by flat wood or stone markers, or newly planted trees.
"Our aim is when you walk on that site, it will be a forest," said Mr. McQuillin, who added that people walking to and from the park will not see the cemetery except for the trees. "You won't think of it as a cemetery."
Mayor Anthony DeLuca said that despite some initial reservations because of council's general unfamiliarity with green burial, he liked the concept and ultimately voted in favor of the project after certain conditions were met.
Under the agreed to conditions, the cemetery site must remain taxable -- meaning it cannot be sold to a tax-exempt non-profit nor turned into a non-profit -- and graves must be covered with at least 36 inches of topsoil to protect from possible external plot disturbances.
Although McQuillin estimated that Penn Forest will not open to the public until mid-summer, the non-denominational natural burial park is already garnering significant interest.
"We have a list of 53 people who have approached us and said, 'As soon as you get your cemetery, I want to buy a lot.'"
Zak Koeske, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org .