Thursday, April 06, 2017

MoCo Planning Board puts Westbard cemetery search in hands of developer Regency Centers

"Just to finish up
some of the
talking points..."

The Montgomery County Planning Board once again treated Macedonia Baptist Church representatives and supporters as second-class citizens in today's discussion of the African-American cemetery in the Westbard area of Bethesda, where developer Regency Centers and the county's Housing Opportunities Commission want to construct a parking garage. Once again, the church was not given a seat at the hearing table, for what ended up as another farcical bit of Kabuki theater.

Chair Casey Anderson and the Board utterly ignored the March 16 letter from County Executive Ike Leggett, which asked for a mediator to resolve the dispute between the church and the Planning Department. Instead, Anderson and the Board rubber-stamped a new cemetery investigation plan that the public was not given advance notice of, and will be entirely controlled by property owner Regency Centers.

Robert Kronenberg, in charge of Area 1 planning for the department, told the Board that Planning Director Gwen Wright wrote to Regency Centers on March 8, and told them to begin the study. That despite the department dismissing the two anthropologists the church had sought to oversee the Ottery Group's cemetery investigation. This means that the contract and scope of work were decided with no public transparency or input from Macedonia Baptist Church. And that Leggett knew Ottery Group was already under contract when he wrote the letter.

The investigation, the details of which were not made public by the Planning Board nor the department, will take about 3 months to complete, Kronenberg claimed. That would mean it would be finished around June 8. Ottery Group has begun its initial research, he said, but not any field work at the cemetery itself.

"It might be prudent to come back to you find out where they are," Kronenberg told the Board. Realizing they were again being shut out of the discussion, representatives of the church - who have past members buried at the cemetery, which served a black community that existed for 100 years after Maryland emancipation on River Road - spoke up. "I'm going to have to ask you not to disrupt this meeting," Anderson said, before interrupting the meeting himself to avoid the public embarrassment of silencing church representatives.

"Just to finish up some of the talking points," Kronenberg said - appropriately - when the meeting resumed.

Kronenberg then read Leggett's March 16 letter out loud, in its entirety, something I can't recall staff ever doing during a meeting. One assumes the Board commissioners would have read the letter a long time ago. As he read, protesters chanted in background.

Wright responded to Leggett's letter on March 24, Kronenberg said. Importantly, he did not say the department had committed to a mediator, but that they would work on that "in parallel" with the Ottery Group investigation. The problem is, that makes no sense, because Leggett's proposals - much like the anthropologists the church wanted to provide independent oversight - needed to be in place before Ottery's investigation begins. Of course, that is no longer possible.

"Do we agree on the change of dates?" Anderson asked his colleagues, despite no motion to that effect by any Board member. There was no dissent from the Board. Anderson then hastily adjourned the meeting for lunch, as protesters chanted, "Lies! Lies! Lies!" Planning staff, including Deputy Planning Director Rose Krasnow, tried to quiet protesters. "Don't tell me to shush," responded Marsha Coleman-Adebayo of Macedonia Baptist Church, "I pay your salary."

We now know what many suspected months ago:

This is a sham cemetery investigation.

The March 8 action by Gwen Wright, and today's inaction by the Board, means the cemetery investigation is now fully in the hands of the private developer, Regency Centers (formerly known as Equity One, which merged with Regency). There is no oversight whatsoever, and no independent review.

With such a short timeline for the "field work," there is no way a legitimate cemetery investigation and delineation could be completed by May, for a report filed in June. It's clear there's something they plan to hide, or else they would be providing full transparency.

In short, as MBC Pastor-elect Rev. Segun Adebayo has said, "he who pays the piper, calls the tune." That has not only proven true in the Westbard sector plan process at the Board and County Council, but now with the cemetery. With no independent verification of the investigation and results, how can a report funded by the developer itself have credibility?

There is 60' or more of fill dirt between the asphalt and the graves below, which are interred in clay. All three of those factors render ground penetrating radar essentially useless. And there is no way a major excavation of the site could be completed by May, for a report in June. Period. They don't even have permits from the County yet.

Once again, we are learning the fix is in, and that the Planning Board and County Council will stop at nothing to give Regency Centers what they want at any cost. We've learned Leggett and Council President Roger Berliner have no standing at the Board, as their already-weak and half-hearted letter was just completely ignored by the commissioners. That's humiliating for both men. The Board is appointed and serves at the pleasure of the County Council, and it's telling that the Council has failed to terminate any of the commissioners since their initial disrespectful actions toward the church months ago, and for failing to take seriously the very serious cemetery matter.

There has been extensive media coverage of the cemetery issue (although not all of it objective or factual, unfortunately), but it appears the Board, department and the County Council will steamroll ahead with putting a garage atop an African-American cemetery no matter how bad they end up looking. Considering some on the Council were willing to end their careers for a "yes" vote on Regency Centers' Westbard concept, perhaps that's not surprising.

But barring intervention by the Council, or a federal level organization like the Congressional Black Caucus or the FBI, further desecration of the historic cemetery is a real, and shameful, possibility.


Anonymous said...

"Segun Adebayo" doesn't sound like an African-American name.

Anonymous said...

Amusing things to make you laugh:

"The fix is in"

"The sky is falling"

"Trust me, you can dance" - tequila

When DC Comics made Lex Luthor president, he sold LexCorp. Trump is
literally less ethical than a comic book villain.

Anonymous said...

All these years, none of you gave a damn about this so called cemetery. Now that someone stands to make the area bright and beautiful and take it out of the dumps, you are whining and throwing temper tantrums. Phony baloney temper tantrums from people who are professional protestors and can't get serious jobs.

Robert Dyer said...

11:23: Is that why I testified before the Planning Board and NCPC about the importance of locating the River Road cemetery in 2011?


Wake up.

Descendants of ancestors buried in the cemetery are not "professional protesters," but you are an unprofessional Astroturf troll from the Montgomery County political cartel, which is trying to build a parking garage on top of black graves.

Robin Ficker said...

If the dead can't get respect, how will the living?

Anonymous said...

Not everyone who disagrees with you works for the alleged cartel.

Your quick and rude assault of anyone with a different view ruins your credibility. Some of these are fine folks who have legitimate questions and concerns and they do not deserve your disdain.

You can always count on me to be truthful with you.

Anonymous said...

I do not work for any cartel or for the county or the council. WRONG! I am a resident who wishes to see this development proceed and I'm fed up with weak arguments by people like Dyer who is most likely using this to get his name out there for a run against the council which he hates (FINE). However, I don't care if he things people work for the cartels or whatever. He can say what he wants.

All these decades, none of these NIMBYs who are throwing tantrums against developing the moribund westbard thought to build memorials and go on NPR and CNN and the council about this? We've been parking there and there is no fixing it. The developer has done due diligence in purchasing this property and should not be further stalled in taking care of business. Also, get cremated people.... sheesh. If specific people are buried there, I'd like to know why all these years, no one thought to do a damn thing. I know why, and that's why this is baloney.

Robert Dyer said...

11:53: First of all, you just totally ignored the fact that I have cared about the cemetery since 2011, PRIOR TO EQUITY ONE PURCHASING THE LAND.

Second, this is not "baloney."

There is documented evidence that there are graves there. There is NO documented evidence of your bosses' claim that the remains were legally relocated. That is the baloney here.

You have to have documents to back up your claims. We do. You don't. End of story.

Anonymous said...

I think you are using race to muddy this issue, which is pathetic. People die. There are bodies all over. There are ashes of people spread across the land. That land was never intended as a sacred burial site. It is sad that this nation even had slavery, but this is a pathetic attempt to stop a much needed development.

Anonymous said...

Return them to where they were originally buried, in Fort Reno Park.

Anonymous said...

Robin you don't respect the living either so save the sermons for your buddy Robert Dyer.

Anonymous said...

Robert Dyer: "...what ended up as another farcical bit of kabuki theater."

"'This is Kabuki theater!' church member Marsha Coleman-Adebayo shouted."

LOL. I wonder if either one of them knows what that term actually means.

Robert Dyer said...

12:12: Only some of the first burials there were from NW D.C. That's a Planning Department talking point, by the way - that this was just a cemetery move, and then they were moved again in 195x. Problem is, there's no documentation for that, and there would have been if any such legal reburial was carried out.

We need to stick to the facts here.

12:05: So you're ready to redevelop Arlington National Cemetery? I'd like to hear you announce that idea publicly. Maybe have Leggett and Berliner send a letter?

Robert Dyer said...

12:25: I wonder if you know what the term "African diaspora" means, and the role of memory and identity as tools to dis-empower people of color?

Anonymous said...

Just heard a pol on MSNBC say "I respect your view, but I disagree, and here's why..."

Just a friendly little hint to 11:59AM on how it's done in the big world.

Anonymous said...

11:53 sounds just like the guy in our nearby neighborhood who keeps going on the listserv and calling everyone who wants to see more reasonable levels of development at Westbard a NIMBY. A quick check of his occupation: commercial real estate developer! So maybe that is the cartel 11:53 belongs to? He/she sure is quick with the insults for those who have other opinions.

Anonymous said...

12:51 sounds like the guy in my neighborhood who makes up stories about the neighbors and thinks we don't know he does it. A quick check of his occupation: amateur provider of atta-boys.

Anonymous said...

Old cemeteries are repurposed all the time.

I was visiting Mount Olivet about 20 years ago, and saw several dozen burial vaults stacked near the entrance. I asked the cemetery manager what was going on.

He told me it was "a bunch of nuns from Ohio. Their convent was sold, along with the cemetery there, so their remains are being moved here."

Anonymous said...

The Beall-Dawson House in Rockville has census records for Montgomery County going back nearly 200 years. For the censuses through 1860, the names of slaves are listed with the families that own them.

It will be interesting to see how many slaves Dyer's ancestors owned.

Anonymous said...

1:08 PM Can you find something more productive to do than building the Dyer family tree?
You'll divert to any nonsense rather dealing with the issue at hand.

The cemetery is an inconvenient truth that now must be recognized.

Anonymous said...

The hearings, community meetings, walking tours, etc. were all kabuki theater.
For show, nothing more.

The decision to go ahead with this massive redevelopment was already made and nothing will stand in their way, including Bethesda residents, the church or the buried freed slaves.

The developer's troll attacks in Dyer's comments were mean spirited last year, but unsuccessful in silencing Dyer. Now he's bringing us the rest of the story here.

Robert Dyer said...

1:08: There were no "Dyer ancestors" in Montgomery County during the age of slavery. But we have a corporation in 2017 asserting ownership of the bodies of former slaves at Westbard, with the full complicity of Park and Planning, the Planning Board, the County Council, and you.


Tim said...

It is breathtaking that there's not one person on the Planning Board or County Council who will stand up and say that this plan to desecrate the cemetery is immoral and wrong.

We desperately need courage and leadership!

Anonymous said...

Not true. Most of the public learned of the cemetery issue in August-October of 2016, when the County began to discuss it in meetings with community groups. Had the public known about the cemetery earlier, it would have protested the County's neglect of the cemetery earlier. In any case, residents, the Macedonia Baptist Church and civic organizations have been supporting the use of a comprehensive and transparent study of the probable cemetery at Westbard, a reasonable request that the planners have denied.

Key question: why did the Planning Department fail to publicly disclose its information on the Westbard cemetery until after the Westbard sector plan had been approved in May 2016? The Planning Department had developed this information by February 2015. The cemetery matter should have been discussed publicly by the planners in 2015 and 2016. Instead, this important material was concealed.

Anonymous said...

The cemetery has been hidden under asphalt and 60 feet of fill dirt since the 1960s-- for over 50 years. Just how were residents supposed to know about it?

After the Planning Department disclosed the existence of the cemetery in late Summer/ Fall 2016, residents were very quick to demand that the issue be investigated and properly resolved.

Anonymous said...

Developers are subject to development risk. The presence of the presumed cemetery is an example of development risk.

The cemetery should be carefully investigated in a manner acceptable to the descendants of those believed to be buried there. If human remains are found, they should be reburied and an appropriate memorial erected.

This should not be controversial. It is the right thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Kabuki theater is highly stylized, traditional Japanese theater.

When the term is used colloquially, as it was by Ms. Coleman-Adebayo, it refers to an event that is supposed to be unrehearsed and responsive, but instead is being used to support a pre-agreed conclusion. The colloquial use of the term by Ms. Coleman-Adebayo perfectly describes Planning Board hearings on Westbard.

Anonymous said...

"That land was never intended as a sacred burial site." Really? I imagine that those who purchased the land for use as a cemetery and buried their families there would disagree.

Anonymous said...

I agree that old cemeteries are re-purposes all the time. That is not necessarily the issue. The issue is the failure of the Planning Department to meaningfully include the Macedonia Baptist Church-- which represents the descendants of those believed to be buried there'd-- into the decision-making process as an important stakeholder.

Anonymous said...

The Planning Department and the Planning Board have acted in bad faith. The Westbard development is not supported by a majority of the community. That is why the civic associations of 4 surrounding neighborhoods-- Springfield, Sumner, Westmoreland Hills and Wood Acres-- have donated to the lawsuit challenging the Westbard sector plan.