County Planners Could Hire Archaeologist To Protect Burial Sites During Development Process
Some preservation advocates say proposal doesn't do enough to safeguard cemeteries
Members of the Macedonia Baptist Church call for preservation of a historic African-American cemetery site.
A bill directing the Montgomery County Planning Department to maintain an inventory of burial sites in the county likely would require the agency to hire a full-time archaeologist.
Creating the inventory could cost $260,000 at first, and the county would need to spend about $118,300 per year on a staff member to review properties going through the subdivision process and other potential burial sites, a county legislative analyst reported Monday.
However, a Bethesda advocate who’s fighting to preserve a historic cemetery site says she’s against the proposal, arguing it won’t do much to protect burial grounds.
“We’d like to see legislation that would protect burial sites from large corporations,” Marsha Coleman-Adebayo said.
Coleman-Adebayo and other members of Macedonia Baptist Church in the Westbard neighborhood of Bethesda have been rallying and protesting against plans to redevelop the Westwood Shopping Center. The area covered by the project plans incudes the Westwood Towers property where grave sites could be located, and the developer, Regency Centers, has agreed to do an archaeological investigation of the area.
However, church members have been outraged that officials have allowed the planning process to move forward in areas of the project not included in the examination.
Amid the controversy, Council members Craig Rice and George Leventhal and Council President Roger Berliner introduced legislation to establish a list of cemetery locations across the county and require property owners to research these sites if they’re looking to subdivide.
Coleman-Adebayo wasn’t the only person to find fault with the proposal. The county’s Historic Preservation Commission also submitted testimony calling for a specially appointed committee to craft a more comprehensive approach to safeguarding burial grounds, a staff report stated.
Rice on Monday acknowledged that the proposal isn’t a complete solution, but said it does make progress.
“We’re at zero trying to go to 100. This bill takes us to 75,” he said during a council committee meeting on the measure.
The committee members discussed several changes to the bill, determining that the inventory should be updated at least annually and as needed. Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson also suggested that the proposal should map out an appeals process if a property owner wants to challenge the planning staff’s findings.
Senior legislative analyst Jeff Zyontz said he’s tweaking the legislation and proposed regulatory change and bringing the measures back Oct. 26 for another committee meeting.
Meanwhile, Coleman-Adebayo said she and other church members are working to resume mediation with Regency Centers and county representatives. The mediation process stalled in September when the parties were trying to schedule their third session, according to The Washington Post.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.