|Laurel Hoa of SURJ-MoCo (left) and|
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Social Justice
Director of Macedonia Baptist Church, chant
"Boycott" moments after Planning Board approves
self-storage project by cemetery site
The Board set the disrespectful tone early Thursday, when it proceeded to change the time of the public hearing for a third time, moving it from 6:50 PM to 5:55 PM, without advance notice to those who had signed up to testify. When speakers originally signed up, the hearing had been scheduled for 2:45 PM. This was clearly an attempt to cheat people out of being able to testify through cheap shenanigans. I question if the decision last night was legal, in light of the last-minute agenda change with no advance notice.
By the end of last night's hearing, Anderson had summoned four cruisers. Police were silent when the hearing began at 5:55, but at 6:40, the lone Park Police officer began to quietly request protesters to lower their signs. Such a rule does not appear in the Planning Board hearing rules, but was, ironically, instituted by Anderson following that original Macedonia Baptist Church protest this year. Clearly designed to silence the voices of those defending the cemetery against the County's nefarious plans, the rule is simply unconstitutional. The fact that it was never a longstanding rule, and was implemented specifically to silence one group this year, makes it even more difficult to defend in court.
Protesters correctly noted that no such rule was posted online when they signed up, but eventually agreed to turn their signs around to the blank white side on the backs of them. Coleman-Adebayo would later sardonically note to the Board, "We turned our signs around to white. That seems to be a color that is recognized in Montgomery County."
The officer returned at 6:50 to say he had called his supervisor, and was told any sign larger than 8x11 could not be held up in the room. When that did not get total compliance, three more squad cars pulled up out front, and three more officers entered the building. Fox 5's Evan Lambert asked Anderson about the questionable sign ban, and the Chair refused to answer. Back at the microphone, Anderson cited "time, place and manner" restrictions to the First Amendment, as a defense.
|"Alright, alright," a Park Police officer,|
one of four summoned by Planning Board,
admonishes chanting protesters to be quiet,
despite the meeting having ended
Matthews condemned Anderson for hiding behind the police, and Planning Director Gwen Wright, whom he advised should change her name to "Gwen Wrong." "I condemn Roger Berliner," Matthews continued, "for passing legislation that does not protect cemeteries. I condemn each branch of County government for passing the buck, and cashing it in on my ancestors. Shame on you. Shame on this hearing. Shame on your entire criminal enterprise."
"I share Macedonia's contempt for this board," activist Kevin Berends testified. He blasted their attempt "to normalize desecration." Berends likened the County government to a "four-headed monster," which serves a fifth, "unseen monster, your corporate benefactors."
Equally controversial and racist was the Board's treatment of the church, which is actually a party to the Westbard Self Storage and Regency Centers development plans, as the contemporary representative of the cemetery that was bulldozed in the 50s and desecrated in the late 60s. The church should have a seat at the table just like the applicants' attorneys. Instead, they are forced to remain silent in the back of the room.
When Hoa asked if she could read the portion of Coleman-Adebayo's statement left out by time restrictions, Anderson saw fit to take a cheap shot at Coleman-Adebayo. Clearly annoyed by the ongoing media attention (but still not embarrassed by it), Anderson said, "She can say it to the camera in the hallway," referring to the Fox 5 news crew. "That's really mean," Coleman-Adebayo replied from the back of the room. "Talk about animus. That's below the belt."
Cemetery advocates waited patiently in silence for the Board to respond to the substantive cemetery issues raised by speakers. They instead talked briefly about stormwater concerns raised by the Little Falls Watershed Alliance, before dismissing them. They next talked about art. Art, instead of the bodies of the first freed slaves in the state of Maryland being acquired by corporations and government.
And then, just when you thought you couldn't be shocked anymore by the racist and inhumane actions of this Board and County Council, it was time for collective jaws to drop again: Anderson called the vote. He and his colleagues did not say a single word about the cemetery, voted to approve the self storage project, and dashed out of the room as protesters chanted, "Boycott!" and "Black Lives Matter!"
WATCH: Click here to watch moment Westbard Self Storage is approved
On the way out, protesters sparred verbally with one of the owners of the self storage project. Church officials say he had initially agreed to allow them to conduct an archaeological study, but withdrew the offer under (surprise!) pressure from the Montgomery County Planning Department. Meeting with officials at Macedonia Baptist Church earlier this year, his attorney advised him to grab his things and leave immediately. "You came to our church and insulted us," Coleman-Adebayo said, "and then you left with your lawyer." "I did not," the owner replied. "Yes, you did," Coleman-Adebayo said. "So, you may have won here, but you need Bethesda residents to put their things in your storage company, and we're not going to do it, so good luck."
Stormwater advocates didn't fare much better. While a few of their concerns were briefly discussed, the Board ultimately made none of the substantive changes the Little Falls Watershed Alliance had sought. LFWA's Sarah Morse had stressed the need for sufficient groundwater to recharge the Willett Branch stream when it is naturalized. The official in charge of stormwater management at Parks & Planning disputed that, saying the fill dirt and clay present at the site would not transmit groundwater effectively to the stream.
Citizens once again ignored by the Planning Board were then asked to vacate the premises by the four Park Police officers, who said, "We have to lock up the building." They walked out the door to find the four police cruisers parked in front of the entrance.