Debate continues as Montgomery Co. bill seeks to protect burial sites from development

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BETHESDA, Md., - Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council held a public hearing on Bill 24-17, which is designed to prevent development of burial sites and cemeteries.

The bill, which would require the Montgomery County Planning Board to create and maintain an inventory of such sites, does not go far enough according to Reverend Segun Adebayo, Pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church.

“If the bill can include existing cemeteries then that would actually satisfy some of our demands.”, said Rev. Adebayo, whose church has been in a fight to preserve their Moses Cemetery, an African American burial ground situated alongside an apartment building, which is currently a paved over driveway.
He saiid the measure is only good for land that has not already been built into subdivisions.

Montgomery County Planning Chair, Casey Anderson said, “It’s very complicated to untangle if you’ve got a situation where there’s already something built there. What should be done about it if that’s discovered.”

He hopes the bill will also establish rules about what happens if a burial site is discovered in the midst of a development proposal.

“The way the proposal is written right now suggests that if there is a burial site found, that has to be left in place and protected where it currently exists.", said Anderson.

 Reverend Adebayo has been fighting the development of a parking garage on top of the paved Moses Cemetery. 

He said, “The easiest way out would be to dedicate the land to the community so that we can build a museum to memorialize the life of those who once lived here, what we call the African, you know, African River Road Colony that were displaced from this community.”

 Reverend Adebayo would like to see a citizens group established to make decisions about what to do with remains found at development sites.

According to Anderson, Maryland state law says the ultimate decision would come down to the State’s Attorney. He’s hopes the bill will provide more guidance for these situations.

The Montgomery County Council is set to meet again for a work session on this issue on October 16th.

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