Ecker backs deal between residents, developer on cemetery

July 26, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker wants Turf Valley Overlook residents and the developer of the St. Mary's cemetery property to make a deal -- and soon.

Mr. Ecker will interrupt his scheduled vacation tomorrow to meet with representatives of the community in his office at 1 p.m.

"There has been a lot of misinformation," Mr. Ecker said. He has also directed the county public information officer to put together a fact sheet on the history of the property for tomorrow's meeting.

Meanwhile, construction at the cemetery site has stopped -- at least for the moment. It was halted Wednesday when the remains of perhaps as many as three more bodies were found in what is believed to be the black section of the segregated cemetery.

The discovery Wednesday followed a similar finding Monday when county workers excavating a water and sewer line unearthed portions of a human skeleton.

The remains were sent to the Smithsonian Institution for analysis. Public works officials say they are not yet sure whether the remains are of one or more than one body. Each body found has to be reinterred elsewhere at the property owner's expense.

County officials said reinterment could cost $6,000 per grave, but the attorney for property owner H. Allen Becker said he doubted it would be that much.

David A. Carney said he and Mr. Becker had been assured by a representative of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Baltimore that the archdiocese would do everything possible to keep costs down when the remains are reinterred in a diocesan cemetery.

Mr. Carney said Mr. Ecker had asked that he and the property owner set up a meeting with residents to see if they could not revive negotiations that might enable residents to buy a portion of the 3.2-acre cemetery property. Those negotiations broke down after graves were disturbed in the water and sewer easement.

Mr. Becker is willing to help with the financing based on pledges residents say they have raised, Mr. Carney said. Residents said they had raised more than $47,000, but that Mr. Becker's asking price was too steep.

Mr. Carney, while not quoting a purchase price, said Mr. Becker had spent more than $160,000 developing the property before laying the foundations for two houses. The houses have been advertised for sale at $284,900 on the smaller lot and $294,900 on the larger.

Residents and descendants of persons buried in the cemetery have been fighting development of the property for more than 18 months. Opposition has been especially concentrated since bulldozers began clearing the property in late June.

Following a meeting with offended residents, the county hired an archaeologist to assure that work would stop if graves were discovered. The county and the developer contended that no graves were in the area being developed.

Although no graves were discovered there, remains were unearthed during excavation in a water and sewer easement about 25 feet from two partially buried headstones.

County Public Works Director James M. Irvin said Friday the county is looking for another route to connect the water and sewer lines. Officials do not want any more graves disturbed.

A crowd of 54 adults and children gathered at the county office building Thursday to rally against the development and appeal to county officials for help in stopping it.

Most carried signs and slogans: "Let the dead rest in peace, not in pieces," "Rest in Peace means forever," and "Why does no one have the power to stop it?"

People gathered around Mr. Ecker to confront him individually.

"We're here to keep the focus on," said Turf Valley Overlook resident Kathy Rebeck. "We don't want them to think we've gone away."

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