Friday, February 03, 2017

Westbard developer hires firm to verify existence of African-American cemetery in Bethesda

Developer Equity One/Regency Centers has hired Kensington-based Ottery Group to investigate an African-American cemetery believed to be on property it is seeking to redevelop in the Westbard area of Bethesda. There is strong evidence from eyewitness accounts that the cemetery was desecrated during construction of Westwood Tower by another developer in the late 1960s.

The Little Falls Watershed Alliance reports that two archaeologists with a strong background in historic African-American cemeteries, Dr. Rachel Watkins, Professor of Archaeology at American University and Dr. Michael Blakey, Professor of Archaeology at the College of William and Mary, will join the effort along with the Macedonia Baptist Church nearby on River Road, and the Montgomery County Department of Parks.

As you may recall from my previous reports, the known site of the cemetery has asphalt and fill on top of it, which will have to be removed to allow for scanning by ground-penetrating radar. A second challenge will be locating remains that reportedly were illegally moved to adjacent land by construction workers building Westwood Tower. One of the many buildings planned for the massive redevelopment of "Westbard" would intrude on both the cemetery site, and the stream buffer of the Willett Branch. Delineation of the cemetery would either require those plans to be revised, or for remains discovered to be relocated under Maryland law.

Representatives of the Macedonia Baptist Church were outspoken on the need to properly investigate what happened to the cemetery - and to hold those responsible accountable - at a LFWA event last year. I second their sentiments on this potentially immoral and criminal act 50 years ago.


Anonymous said...

Imagine how upset Dyer would have been if he had found live African-Americans in Westbard.

Robert Dyer said...

6:40: A carpetbagger like you probably wouldn't realize that there are already black residents in the Westbard area.

Anonymous said...

Dyer, do you realize that the term "carpetbagger" was coined by former slaveowners during Reconstruction following the Civil War?

Anonymous said...

I fully support the investigation of the Westbard site to ascertain the presence of an African American cemetery.

Glad to read that Equity One/Regency Centers is doing the right thing in this regard.

Readers should note that the research of the Montgomery Department Planning Department pursuant to the sector plan process indicated that one or more cemeteries might be present on the site. Montgomery County could have compelled the needed investigation as a condition of approving the sector plan, but did not.

It was not until the potential presence of the cemetery was publicized by the Little Falls Watershed Alliance, through a Save Westbard community survey (residents overwhelmingly supported investigating and resolving the cemetery matter as required under Maryland law *before* approving the project's Sketch Plan), and in citizen and civic association comments to planners on the Sketch Plan that the developer agreed to investigate.

As this sequence of events shows, the Planning Department, Planning Board and County Council overlooked quite a bit in their eagerness to approve the Westbard sector plan on terms favorable to the developer. It is upsetting that the planners and the County Council did not impose such basic conditions as requiring a detailed traffic analysis, conducting the carbon footprint assessment required under County law, requiring that utility lines be buried, and ascertaining the presence of burial grounds and ensuring appropriate remediation, before pushing through the sector plan.

Traditional societies rightly condemn disrespect for burial grounds. Such disregard is thought to be a harbinger of bad luck. It certainly seems to have turned out this way for the County Council. Approval of the Westbard sector plan and related zoning changes was followed closely by term limits. Here's hoping that County officials will begin to show more respect for their constituents on all aspects of land use decisions.

Anonymous said...

Not only living in Westbard, but opposing the redevelopment plan. The redevelopment is too big for the site and the surrounding area.