The D.C. area has a long history of digging up cemeteries in order to construct developments like malls, Metro stations, schools, and residential buildings. In one county of Maryland, there are plans to stop this. The Washington Post reported that the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously on legislation that could protect historic cemeteries from new development.
The legislation calls for the County’s Planning Board to create a list of burial sites that will be updated on an annual basis. It will also require those who wish to subdivide a property to research the boundaries of nearby burial sites.
The legislation was spurred by local criticisms on Bethesda, Maryland’s Westwood Tower Apartments on Westbard Drive, which were constructed on a potentially historic African-American cemetery. Currently, there are plans to redevelop the area into a retail center with 60-foot-tall buildings, townhomes and apartment buildings, underground parking, a street grid, and parks.
Members of the Macedonia Baptist Church have spoken against the project, instead asking for a museum and a memorial that would commemorate the black community that existed along River Road until the mid-20th century.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Eileen McGuckian, president of Montgomery Preservation, said the law is “the first time the County has identified burial sites as important areas worthy of historical preservation.”
Despite this, members of the Macedonia Baptist Church are against the legislation because it could still allow the ability for burial sites to be relocated if needed.
The Washington Post further reported that developing the inventory of burial sites could cost up to $260,000. For a staff member to review sites that are part of subdivision applications, that could cost an additional $118,300 per year.
• Montgomery to inventory cemeteries, help shield them from development [The Washington Post]
• Bethesda’s controversial Westbard redevelopment remains stalled by lawsuit, protestors [Curbed DC]
• Mapping the Hidden Locations of 10 Long-Gone Burial Grounds [Curbed DC]