Elrich Offers His Help as Future County Executive to Settle Bethesda Cemetery Debate
Housing Opportunity Commission faces backlash for proposal to create “advisory board” to handle memorialization of River Road burial ground
Montgomery County Executive-elect Marc Elrich speaks at an HOC meeting Wednesday afternoon.
In his first public appearance since winning the county executive race Tuesday, Marc Elrich Wednesday said he intends to serve as a liaison between the county Housing Opportunity Commission (HOC) and a group that opposes development near a historic Bethesda cemetery when he is sworn into office.
Elrich, who won Tuesday’s election by securing about 65 percent of Montgomery County votes, was invited to a HOC meeting in Kensington by members of Macedonia Baptist Church (MBC), who have for years protested development on an African American burial ground on River Road. Elrich didn’t voice an opinion on the matter, but rather said he wants to help both sides find a reasonable resolution.
“I will take this seriously,” Elrich said to a round of applause from the audience. “We will work this out. If you need help from the executive’s office to settle this, I offer myself as a partner, but I want to find a resolution.”
A years-long issue, the HOC has consistently met fierce backlash from activists from nearby MBC who claim development on the property, both future and existing, “desecrates” their ancestors’ remains.
The most recent protest comes after HOC Executive Director Stacey Spann sent a letter to the church on Nov. 2 saying the HOC will form an advisory board comprised of “stakeholders from the wider community” to make the decision about how to best memorialize the cemetery and its history.
“This is a cynical move by HOC to grab power by forming a sham advisory board that will kick MBC to the curb,” said MBC Pastor Rev. Dr. Segun Adebayo in response to the HOC letter.
In the letter, Spann said the advisory committee will be formed to ensure that “no one single entity or group holds claim to memorialization.”
Church members have spoken loudly against the idea of developing on and around land where they believe graves are located. However, the HOC said in its recent letter there are currently no plans to pursue development on the property. Furthermore, the HOC said it would pursue a historical evaluation of the area should development plans arise and will continue to listen to community members’ concerns.
Ultimately, church members would like to put a memorial on the cemetery site as a tribute to the African-American community that once lived along River Road.
On Wednesday, Elrich served as a calm voice amid a sea of MBC members who interrupted HOC commissioners mid-sentence to fling accusations and insults about the handling of the cemetery property.
Urging attendees to relax, Elrich promised multiple times he will help the HOC and MBC resolve their issues.
“You’ll get some people and I will work with you and be personally involved in this,” Elrich said before exiting the meeting room. “I want this resolved. … I really don’t want this to go on forever.”