Compromise on cemetery still in doubt ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

October 02, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Two weeks ago, public works director James M. Irvin was very concerned that a compromise to halt development in St. Mary's Cemetery and allow the owner to build on open space elsewhere in Turf Valley Overlook was doomed.

Today, he is optimistic that the county "can still pull it off," even though only one of four conditions of the Aug. 3 compromise -- the halting of construction -- has been realized.

"We've just got to get it done," Mr. Irvin said. "It's taking an incredible amount of time." Working out the details of the compromise "has been like finding a homeland for the Palestinians."

When the compromise was struck Aug. 3, residents, county officials and the developer, H. Allen Becker, agreed there would be no more digging on the 3.2-acre site, that the bodies unearthed July 20 and 22 would be reinterred, and that the cemetery property would be restored to the condition that existed before foundations were laid for the two houses there.

The compromise also called for Mr. Becker to cede the cemetery property to the county in exchange for lots of equal value that can be developed elsewhere in the neighborhood. The cemetery was to be maintained by a group such as the Friends of St. Mary's Cemetery and Preservation Society. The society was created by residents two years ago to oppose development of the cemetery.

Two issues have been delaying the agreement, Mr. Irvin said. They are getting a group to agree to maintain the cemetery and finding lots to trade for the cemetery property.

The county had thought it would be able to trade lots on Boone's Lane for the cemetery property, but nearby residents were livid when told of the proposal, Mr. Irvin said. As a result, the county extended its search to property near Turf Valley Overlook. Since the adjacent property is still being settled, residents there might not be as opposed to the trade as those on Boone's Lane, Mr. Irvin said.

David A. Carney, attorney and spokesman for Mr. Becker, said his client wants one of his new properties to be a lot near the cemetery on Concord Court.

The land exchange is subject to the County Council's approval once the properties are identified. Mr. Carney said Mr. Irvin promised him land-swap legislation would come before the council Monday night and be acted on this month.

"I'm relying on Jim putting in this legislation," Mr. Carney said. "We can't delay on this any longer. We're anticipating final approval this month." Construction on the cemetery lots will have to resume if substitute lots are not found soon, Mr. Carney said.

Mr. Irvin said that if the details can be worked out, the administration might indeed want to request a special session of the council this month to approve the land swap. "We would like to conclude this issue as soon as possible," he said.

Meanwhile, a breakthrough occurred Monday night when the Friends of St. Mary's Cemetery and Preservation Society agreed in principle to maintain the cemetery, Mr. Irvin said.

The society had been reluctant to take over maintenance of the cemetery unless the entire 3.2-acre parcel were designated a cemetery, said Sandra Pezzoli, a society board member and a leader in the fight to preserve the cemetery.

That impediment was removed Monday when the society received assurances from Mr. Irvin and Recreation and Parks Director Jeffrey Bourne that the entire site will be recorded as a cemetery, she said.

Getting the entire parcel designated a cemetery has been one of the society's goals from the beginning. Only a portion of the property was designated as a cemetery when the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Baltimore sold it to developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. for $10,000 on June 23, 1986.

Although there were headstones at opposite ends of the segregated cemetery, the county and Mr. Becker assumed that burial plots were confined to those areas. Mr. Becker was building his houses on land between the two ends.

Construction stopped July 22 when a backhoe unearthed bodies for the second time in two days while excavating a water and sewer easement. Excavation was halted temporarily July 20 when a backhoe unearthed several bones about 25 feet from a pair of half-buried tombstones in the black portion of the cemetery.

Mr. Irwin said Mr. Becker and the Baltimore archdiocese have agreed to reverently reinter the bodies, with the county's help, if necessary. Ms. Pezzoli said the church may also provide a financial endowment of at least $10,000 to help maintain the cemetery.

A contractor connected with the developer "is willing to restore the site as a good citizen," Mr. Irvin said. "I think we can work it out and get the ground back to a stabilized condition."

The county parks department has agreed to work with the society to provide plant materials for ground cover for the site instead of grass, Ms. Pezzoli said. A walking path will link the cemetery's black graves with the white ones, she said. "It is not elaborate, but it is a beginning."

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