Thursday, February 16, 2017

Macedonia Baptist Church still wants Planning Board vote delayed over cemetery controversy (Video/Photos)

Planning Department deploys
large police presence to greet
protesters at HQ

Macedonia Baptist Church and their supporters are not accepting the latest proposal from the Montgomery County Planning Department in a dispute over a desecrated African-American cemetery in the Westbard area of Bethesda. On Tuesday, the department said it would temporarily remove the Housing Opportunities Commission/Westwood Tower site - where the cemetery is located, according to land records and eyewitness accounts - from developer Equity One's sketch plan. The Planning Board would then review and vote on the plan, and the excluded site would be reviewed as a later amendment, after the cemetery investigation is complete.

That proposal is "insufficient," church representative Marsha Coleman-Adebayo said in an interview this afternoon. The church still wants the Equity One sketch plan removed from the Board's February 23 agenda, and postponed until the cemetery review is complete.

Equity One is "driving the process," Coleman-Adebayo said. Church leaders and members, whose ancestors are among those buried in the cemetery, are concerned about the Board's "rush to judgement," she said. She added that it would be inappropriate to give the developer approval to put up buildings all around the borders of the cemetery, should the land around it move through the sketch and site plan process before the HOC/Westwood Tower site is investigated.

"We would like to see a museum there," Coleman-Adebayo said of the cemetery site, currently hidden under a parking lot and the Westwood Tower high-rise.

to watch
Planning Board Chair
Refuses to Accept
Church Petition

Coleman-Adebayo also accused the Planning Department of attempting to place a "gag order" on the independent anthropologist and archaeologist the church wants to monitor the cemetery investigation. She said they would be unable to report anything they saw or learned to the church or the community. Speakers at last Sunday's protest explicitly said they wanted a process in which the church and other community stakeholders would have equal and immediate access to all of the findings by the developer and its cemetery investigation contractor.

The church has repeatedly tried to schedule a meeting with Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, Coleman-Adebayo said, but "he has refused to meet with us." She said they believe he has met privately with Equity One. "He's made a distinction between" the church and Equity One, she added, noting that the latter is a multi-billion dollar corporation on the New York Stock Exchange.

Protesters from the church, and their supporters in the community, gathered on Georgia Avenue outside the Planning Department headquarters in Silver Spring at 2:00 PM today. After displaying signs and chanting for a few minutes, they were approached by a police officer who told them they needed to move to the courtyard at the back of the building. Coleman-Adebayo responded that the protesters were allowed to be on the public sidewalk, and declined to move. After further polite discussion, the officer left.

A short time later, protesters walked around the building to enter the rear door. They were seeking to deliver a petition, signed by hundreds asking the Board to postpone their February 23 vote on the sketch plan, to Board Chair Casey Anderson.

Three Park Police vehicles were parked near the building, and the group was approached by three Park Police officers. In all, the Planning Department called in six Park Police cruisers and one Montgomery County police officer against the protesters, the largest deployment I've seen against residents at the Planning headquarters. Usually there is one police officer present, and only when a public hearing is expected to be contentious.

Protesters continued into the building, with the officers following. At some point, church leaders were told they could not bring their banner into the Planning Board meeting room. Protesters lined up at the back of the room quietly. One carrying a small sign was approached by a Park Police officer. "That sign doesn't meet the requirements," he told her. "You'll have to go outside." The Planning Department headquarters is a public building, and its meetings are public. Protesters were silent indoors, and did not disrupt the business of the board at any time during today's protest.
Planning Board Chair
Casey Anderson refuses
to accept petition from
Macedonia Baptist Church
Planning Board Chair Anderson suddenly recessed the meeting. As he walked from the dais toward the exit, Coleman-Adebayo attempted to hand him the petition. "I want to give you our petition," she said, extending the papers to Anderson. He refused to take it. "Did you talk to Equity One," Coleman-Adebayo asked. "No, I can't talk to anybody," Anderson replied.

Technically, Anderson is correct. In practice, however, he has been selective in avoiding ex parte communication since he was named chair of the board. According to an internal Planning Department email, Anderson scheduled a private meeting with Equity One on September 11, 2015. He did not report this ex parte communication at the start of the next Planning Board meeting as required by law. No action was taken against him by any oversight body.

Anderson also spoke privately with Equity One partners minutes after the Westbard sector plan was passed by the County Council on May 3, 2016. He has also, inappropriately, attended charrettes on the Westbard and Rock Spring sector plans. Anderson himself stated he had spoken to attendees at the Westbard charrette, again in violation of ex parte rules, claiming later they told him they were too scared to speak in favor of a draft plan widely opposed by the community. At the Rock Spring meeting, he not only spoke with individuals, but at one point seized control of the meeting to deliver a verbal beatdown to residents who dared to criticize the early framework of the plan.

Anderson's annual taxpayer-funded salary is $200,000. The church's petition was eventually accepted today by Planning Department Deputy Director Rose Krasnow.

Protesters plan to gather at Macedonia Baptist Church again this Sunday, February 19, at 1:30 PM.


Anonymous said...

Looks like a total of 8 attended, including 2 children. 9, if you count the dog.

And it looks like only one of those was actually a member of MBC.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that should have been two members of MBC, not just one.

Robert Dyer said...

4:21: Wrong. By the way, do you approve of a cemetery being desecrated?

Anonymous said...

So how many attended?

Anonymous said...

The Planning Board and County Council celebrate Black History Month... by approving plans to desecrate an historic African American cemetery.

A new low for both the Council and Planning Board. It's almost an emergency now to replace this insane Council.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't the cemetery already desecrated, four decades ago?

Anonymous said...

It's outrageous that Anderson refused to meet with the Church.

Anonymous said...

The two people presenting the petition to Anderson don't look like members of the church.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the cemetery was desecrated decades ago. But we could make amends now.

Why are the Planning Board and the Planning Department blocking protests to set matters right?

Anonymous said...

Casey Anderson exchanged a congratulatory handshake with a representative of EYA, EquityOne's co-developer, after the County Council approved the Westbard sector plan. (I observed this exchange.)

Now Casey Anderson refuses to accept a public petition from representatives of Macedonia Baptist Church.

The bias is obvious and offensive.

Anonymous said...

Anderson and the Planning Department have disregarded the Westbard community, including the Church, throughout this process.

It *is* outrageous. Unfortunately, it's ongoing.

Anonymous said...

@5:00 PM: You are right. This needs to change.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up, I'll be working there tomorrow. Will be locked and loaded for sure.

Anonymous said...

@4:50: Great points. Thanks for mentioning that all of this is happening during Black History Month.

Anonymous said...

Protest signs were allowed inside a County Council meeting on Westbard in May 2016.

Why were Macedonia Baptist Church protesters treated differently at the Planning Board in February 2017?

I don't know if this reflects racism or not, but it' appears discriminatory and makes for really bad optics

Anonymous said...

I wondered why the Macedonia Baptist Church didn't want to accept the Planning Board's offer to stop hearings on the cemetery site.

Now I understand. The Church is correct that the development of immediately adjoining land would affect efforts to commemorate the cemetery.

To Macedonia Baptist Church and its supporters: Stay strong!

Anonymous said...

One of the people presenting the petition to Casey Anderson appears to be Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, the Church officer who organized the protest.

Anonymous said...

Bestseller by Casey Anderson: "Bending the Ex Parte Rules for Fun & Profit"

Anonymous said...

I guess Anderson isn't elected so we can't vote him out. How do we get him out then? Can a watchdog group file suit against him for violating the ethics rules about ex parte communications?

Robert Dyer said...

9:54: You have two effective channels to remove Anderson:

1. He serves at the pleasure of the County Council. You can write to the Council and demand his replacement. You can mention the ex parte, and over-the-top response to protests, in your communication. However, a majority of the Council are political allies of Anderson.

2. Replace the Council in 2018, and vote for candidates who don't represent the current faction of the Democratic Party that today holds a majority on the Council. They will then have the opportunity to appoint not only a new Chair, but an entirely new board, as terms expire.

Anonymous said...

Public protests are proving to be the most effective means of putting a check on the Council and Planning Board.

This Council and Planning Board are not normal. Their disregard for citizen input and decency is without precedent for both bodies. There's questions whether the Board chair has broken the law. Not normal.

Robert Dyer said . . . said...

Guys, I fancy myself a real reporter. I know I'm living in a fantasy world. Let's pretend I report the news, instead of blogging a few times a week. Better yet - let's pretend that WaPo and Bethesda Beat aren't reporting these stories in more honest and transparent way.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Dead lives matter

Anonymous said...

This protest is a joke.

Robert Dyer said...

7:30: Did you read about the Planning Department calling in muscle against the protesters in the Post or BB? Did you read about - and see photos and video of - Casey Anderson needing 3 armed police officers to speak to a small group of women and children, and disrespecting representatives of a black church at Thursday's meeting in the Post and BB? Did the Post and BB break the cemetery story years ago?

No, no and no.

I publish 7 days a week, you idiot. BB didn't even cover last Sunday's march, the biggest Bethesda community story of the year to date! Everyone reading this is laughing at you right now.

Robert Dyer said...

1:03: You are the joke, but I'm sure your hero Senator Robert Byrd would be proud of you.

Anonymous said...

Out of one comment "This protest is a joke" Dyer has assumed this commenter knows who former Senator Byrd is, and supports his policies enough to make him his hero. He WAS the longest serving Senator. He was also racist. He also supported the Vietnam war.

But, why does the protester think it's a joke? We don't know!!! Maybe they don't like the signs. Maybe they don't think there's enough people involved. Maybe they think it's useless against the board. We don't know because they give no clue.

It could have been a discussion. But, Dyer just chose the easy way. Insult and move on.