2021 | Courts

Construction firm can acquire Chevy Chase property despite burial ground claims, court rules

Couple argued that burial ground should have prevented land transfer

share this

A state appellate court has ruled that a custom home builder can buy land in Chevy Chase, Md., near the Washington, D.C., border, despite claims of a burial ground there.

The property dispute, involving a parcel along Murray Road, spans decades and involves facts dating back to the 1830s.

In 1992, Roy D.R. and Paulette Betteley, the owners of the property, were granted permission by the county’s Planning Board to subdivide the property, according to the court decision.

The Brookdale Citizens Association, a local homeowners association, stated that there could be a possible burial site on the lot, but the Planning Board found no evidence of that in 1997.

Paramount Construction, a custom home builder based in Rockville, bought the property in 2016 from Philip Bettleley, the son of Roy D.R. and Paulette Betteley. 

Residents who said they were ancestors of the lot’s original property owner, however, argued that they had documentation through deeds and witnesses that there used to be a burial site there.

Susan Werner Scofield and Nancy Shoemaker Werner said they were descendants of Isaac Shoemaker, the original property owner from the 1830s.

According to the court filing, the Werners argued that there was a burial ground, known as the “Shoemaker family burial ground,” that Paramount bought in 2016. They said Paramount should not be allowed to develop the lot or disturb the site, where they believe four members of the Shoemaker family are buried. 

But the Montgomery County Circuit Court ruled that language in deeds presented by the Werners was not enough to prove there was once a burial ground on the lot, per state law.

Also in its ruling, the court stated that the Werners did not object during the 1990s. The court also cited the Planning Board’s 1997 decision that determined there was no burial site there. 

The Werners appealed this decision in 2019. The Court of Special Appeals agreed with the county circuit court, stating that a lot of the Werners’ arguments through expert witnesses about the potential burial site were “hearsay” and not proof of the site. 

“The Circuit Court for Montgomery County determined that the descendants did not have title to any part of the lot and that there is no evidence of a burial ground on the lot. The descendants appealed. We affirm,” the court wrote. 

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com