Old cemeteries and burial grounds that may lay in the path of new development would receive better protection under legislation introduced Tuesday by a trio of Montgomery County Council members.
The county has a list of more than 250 burial sites established by churches, families, and enslaved and free black communities, some dating back to the early 18th century. But in many cases, the boundaries are not exact, and the information is fragmentary.
According to The Washington Post,
The measure requires that when land earmarked for new construction includes a burial site listed in county records, the developer must “use best historical and archaeological practices” to establish the exact location. Projects would not be approved without plans in place to protect those sites during construction and maintain them going forward.
“We in Montgomery County owe it to our many historic founders and historic residents to pay them the respects they deserve,” said Council member Craig Rice (D-Upcounty), who co-sponsored the bill with Council member George Leventhal (D-At Large) and Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda). Officials said Howard and Prince George’s counties have similar laws.
Planning officials say the presence of cemeteries on land to be developed is now relatively rare. The bill strengthens provisions aimed at preventing what appears to have happened in Bethesda’s Westbard neighborhood during the 1960s, when an early-20th-century African American cemetery probably was disturbed and paved over during construction of an apartment high-rise.
A proposal to redevelop that area is now at the center of a bitter dispute pitting nearby Macedonia Baptist Church against the property owner, Regency Centers, and the county. Church members want to see a museum on the site commemorating the black community that existed along River Road until the mid-20th century. The matter is in mediation.