Thursday, June 29, 2017
New cemetery legislation doesn't help Westbard burial site, church says
“While we applaud the proposed amendment to County development law as a small step in the right direction, as it is currently drafted it appears that [Bill 24-17] would not apply to the Bethesda African Cemetery because that project already has a pending subdivision application, and this law won’t take effect for months,” said Rev. Dr. Segun Adebayo, Pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church. “On a broader scale, it only addresses unsubdivided land, and given how much land in Montgomery County is already developed, this law has very limited future application,” he said.
The Church also took issue with the role the Planning Department is given by the bill. A church spokesperson said the Macedonia coalition suggests that "oversight of the implementation of cemetery policy be shifted to the Montgomery County Historical Commission, and taken out of the corrupt Planning Department with its cozy relationship with developers."
Based on the public comments of two of the bill's sponsors, it appears the Council is trying to pass "a bill" to be able to "look busy" on the topic, and to later claim they "took action on cemeteries." In reality, the bill doesn't erase the shameful actions and inaction on the Westbard cemetery by the Council and Planning Board, nor the institutional racism that was revealed when cemetery advocates began poking and prodding various parts of the County government on this issue.
There already is a cemetery inventory in the County. Had the inventory and map proposed by this bill been law when the Westbard sector plan process began in 2014, nothing would have happened differently regarding the cemetery. It was not on the inventory, and only would have been added at this point, when the church would have requesting it be considered for addition.
Nothing in the bill would stop development on a cemetery, or prevent relocation of remains to other sites. Importantly, despite much talk by the Council, the bill contains no provisions to address the special issues related to African-American burial grounds in particular, such as neglect and poor official recordkeeping. There's no reason to oppose the bill, but it should be understood that it doesn't help the Westbard situation, and the bill could most certainly be improved.