Residents of Turf Valley Overlook gathered in the heart of their neighborhood yesterday to watch a bulldozer fell walnut and poplar trees within 10 feet of two half-sunken headstones in old St. Mary's Cemetery.
They had hoped to do more than watch. The night before, they had asked County Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, to suspend development of the 3.2-acre property between Pebble Beach Drive and Cemetery Lane until they, the owner and county officials could agree on a correct way to proceed.
"I don't have a right to stop development," Drown said.
Earlier, representatives from the police, the State's Attorney's Office, the Public Works Department, the Health Department and the Planning and Zoning Department told them there was nothing to stop H. Allen Becker from developing two homes on the property.
All that the law requires, officials said, is that remains discovered during development be reverently reinterred elsewhere. County inspectors from the Health and Public Works departments will be present at all times once excavation begins on two homes and a sewer line July 6, residents were told.
A portion of the property being developed will be maintained as a cemetery under a property easement. Any remains disturbed during development will be reinterred there.
The smaller of the two lots now being cleared lists for $115,000. The other, which includes the plot that is to remain a cemetery, is priced at $135,000. If the buyer prefers, the developer will build a house on the first lot for $284,900, land included. The cost of a house and lot on the property that includes the cemetery is $294,900.
Drown sought to make Monday night's meeting a time for residents, relatives and Friends of St. Mary's Cemetery and Preservation Society members to gather information from county officials, a representative of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore -- which had earlier owned the property -- and Becker's attorney.
The questioning seemed not so much to gather information, however, as to express outrage -- at the church for selling the property, at the county for allowing it to be developed, and at the owner for developing it.
"I don't want to talk about legalities, I want to talk about moral issues -- the teaching I was taught growing up as a Roman Catholic," Sandra Pezzoli said.
Pezzoli said she had gone to Emmitsburg the day before to attend Mass celebrated by the archbishop and talk with him about what was happening to the cemetery.
"His words to me were that this was 'astonishing,' " she said. "I believe in my heart the Catholic Church will do the right thing for us."
Monsignor G. Michael Schleupner had told the crowd of 36 people that the diocese sold the property in 1987 because it could not afford to maintain it. He said the cemetery originally belonged to St. Charles College, a seminary that burned down in 1911. The cemetery had not been used in 51 years and appeared deserted.
When it was sold, the diocese attached covenants to assure that any remains disturbed during development would be reverently reinterred, he said.
One of the concerns of residents was whether relatives would have access to the cemetery. Becker's attorney, David A. Carney, said relatives would have access and that "probably something could be worked out to assure members of the preservation society would have access too."
Members doubted it, pointing to no trespassing signs that marked the property the day after the meeting. Carney said the signs were put up as a safety issue during grading and excavation. "A normal site doesn't have that many people around," he said. "I doubt if there is any official in the county who hasn't gone to visit the site."
James Hanigan of Baltimore County is one of the people who has relatives buried in the cemetery and wants it to remain undisturbed. His ancestors were brought over from Ireland by descendants of the John Carroll family to work at Doughoregan Manor and were buried in the St. Charles cemetery, he said. He said his grandfather, grandmother, two aunts, an uncle, a sister and two infants who died at birth are buried there.
"I know [development and reinterment] is not going to be done properly," he said. "I'm maybe disturbed because of the business I was in -- construction. A sewer 8 to 10 feet deep can cause an awful lot of damage. You won't even see what you've done."