Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker is rightly embarrassed by the sorry situation that has developed at St. Mary's Cemetery, a place even the Catholic Church turned its back on when it decided to sell the property to a builder who wanted to construct houses there.
Now that workers for the builder, H. Allen Becker, have unearthed the remains of five people while preparing the site for homes, Mr. Ecker has stepped forward with a plan to halt the building and presumably save the cemetery.
Mr. Ecker was not required to come up with such a plan. But given the exhaustive and often overwrought fight by residents who lived near the cemetery and who sought to block Mr. Becker, Mr. Ecker probably had little choice. The county executive, already branded as being a little too cozy with the development community, couldn't afford to wear the mantel of grave vandal -- no matter how ridiculous and undeserved.
What Mr. Ecker has proposed is that the county exchange with Mr. Becker a parcel of open space in the same community that would be the equivalent of the cemetery parcel. Also, another group, such as the Maryland Historical Trust, would take deed to the cemetery. Lastly, the residents, who call themselves the Friends of St. Mary's Cemetery and Preservation Society, would agree to maintain the grave sites.
No part of the plan has been nailed down, and at least one aspect has already fallen through. The Maryland Historical Trust has turned down the idea of holding deed to the property. And county officials have been unable to come up with another entity willing to take ownership. Mr. Ecker has said unequivocally that he will not establish a precedent whereby the county begins acquiring abandoned cemeteries. That doesn't leave many options.
Furthermore, finding Mr. Becker a suitable parcel in the same community is a dubious effort. What residents, some of whom may have paid a premium to live near open space, are going to be willing to have other houses built there instead?
Mr. Ecker has made a conscientious attempt to settle this matter. But his plan is as tenuous as they come. Mr. Becker may yet get the go-ahead to build at St. Mary's Cemetery.