The St. Mary's Compromise HOWARD COUNTY

December 04, 1992

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker must have been more embarrassed by the situation at St. Mary's Cemetery than we realized. After vowing that he would not establish a precedent whereby the county would begin taking over abandoned cemeteries, he has decided to do exactly that.

If all goes as agreed upon, the county will take possession of St. Mary's early next year. The plan calls for the county to establish the graveyard as designated open space, thereby protecting it from development.

That should please the Friends of St. Mary's Cemetery and Preservation Society, a group formed in order to stop the property's owner, H. Allen Becker, from building two houses on the burial ground.

Now, the society must pay a price for its principles. The Ecker administration is insisting that the group provide perpetual care for the grounds. Attempts to involve the Maryland Historical Trust failed when the trust declined to hold the deed to the land.

To assist the society in caring for the property, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, which in effect abandoned the cemetery when it sold the property to Mr. Becker, has agreed to contribute $10,000 toward its upkeep. Fittingly enough, the $10,000 is the same amount Mr. Becker paid to buy the property from the church.

In the end, the only real winner in this matter may be the perceived souls that will avoid being disturbed by the bulldozer's shovel -- and, by extension, the entire community.

And that may be all that can be expected from this tortured episode.

Mr. Ecker has embarked on a path that may only occasionally, if ever, come back to haunt county officials. Someday, another situation could arise where a community tries to block an impending development by claiming that a cemetery sits on the property in question. But how often is that likely to occur?

At least the precedent Mr. Ecker is establishing demands that some entity other than the county be willing to take responsibility for the property, including the purchase of liability insurance.

For that reason, plus the fact that this matter may finally be put to rest, this is an agreement that the County Council should simply grin and bear.

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