|Macedonia Baptist Church|
Monday, March 13, 2017
Westbard cemetery search integrity in question after experts are "dismissed" by Planning Dept.
The Planning Department had dragged out negotiations with both, and had sought a gag order on what information the two would be able to relay to the church and community. They now appear to have been entirely dropped from the case. "[Planning Director] Gwen Wright has decided that she's not going to credit either Blakey or Watkins," Coleman-Adebayo said at a Sunday meeting hosted by Save Westbard. She added that the church is now concerned that even the preferred firm to head the investigation could be replaced with one chosen by the department, or developer Equity One. "We think their fate is going to be the same," she said of the Silver Spring-based Ottery Group.
Church members, and the last living former residents of the historic River Road community, have been treated disrespectfully by the Planning Department and Planning Board as they have sought to avoid having the cemetery desecrated for the second time in history. Its graves were first disturbed during the construction of Westwood Tower in the late 1960s, and substantial oral history accounts suggest some remains on the site were illegally relocated by contractors working for developer Lazlo Tauber.
Instead of listening to and respecting the concerns of church members at a public hearing last month, the Planning Board doubled down on disrespect by not only ignoring these concerns and approving Equity One's sketch plan, but also demanding the cemetery investigation be completed in only six weeks. Such a timeline on a complex undertaking like this virtually ensures the results will have no credibility. The remaining graves on the site are mostly under a layer of asphalt and perhaps 60' or more of fill dirt, and are within clay, all presenting challenges to detection via ground penetrating radar. Just pulling the permits for such work from Montgomery County will take time in itself, and the clock is ticking.
Church members are now "between a rock and a hard place," Coleman-Adebayo said, as they prepare to meet with County Executive Ike Leggett today. Their new concern is that Equity One will be allowed to select the search firm, and it will end up being one that will "tell the planning [board] whatever Equity One would like them to know.
Those buried on the Westwood Tower site represent the first generation of emancipated African-Americans, Coleman-Adebayo said, "and they were treated like garbage." She said this generation now fighting the county's rush job at Westbard "will not allow [them] to do it a second time."