Cemetery dispute flares anew amid grumblings about land swap

December 22, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

A delicately agreed-on land swap that would preserve a cemetery in the middle of an Ellicott City neighborhood and give the developer open space elsewhere appeared to be in question last night after new objections were raised.

"As of today, my ancestors are still in the ground," Yvonne German Hope told the County Council at a public hearing on the compromise.

"A lot of bodies have been violated by bulldozers," she said. "My ancestors' bodies will remain there, provided ransom is paid to the developer."

"This is not a matter of ransom," said David A. Carney, attorney for H. Allen Becker, objecting to what he called "scandalous comments."

Ms. Hope and others wanted to know why Mr. Becker should be paid for the 3.2 acres he owns in the middle of Turf Valley Overlook.

Mr. Carney testified that Mr. Becker was aware a cemetery was located on a portion of the heavily wooded property when he began clearing a portion of the site in late June to build two houses.

Residents and the developer differed as to how much of the property was a cemetery. Graves were found at opposite ends of what was believed to be a segregated cemetery. Mr. Becker hoped to develop the property between the grave sites.

After residents objected, saying the entire site was a cemetery, the county hired an archaeologist to make sure no graves were disturbed. When none were discovered, foundations for the two houses were laid.

But remains were unearthed July 20 when the county began excavating a utility line near the black section of the cemetery. Two days later, more bodies were found and all digging stopped.

Residents were joined by representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, charging the county callously authorized the desecration of unmarked graves of blacks.

The county capitulated and is working on a deal whereby Mr. Becker would cede his land to the county as open space in return for other developable lots.

Finding suitable lots has been virtually impossible. One lot the county wants to trade adjoins the property of Donna Gfeller on Boone's Lane.

Ms. Gfeller told the council she bought her property and built there on the assumption that she would have open space in her back yard.

"When you spend $400,000 for a home, you don't want homes on top of you," she told the council, asking that a different lot be found to trade.

Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, a 1st District Democrat, said she would like to delay the land swap 30 days, if possible, to see if another lot can be found.

"Unfortunately, every [developable lot] is touching something else," Public Works Director James M. Irvin said. "We are trying for minimal impact."

The council plans a work session on the land-swap legislation at 8 o'clock tonight. It is scheduled to vote on the legislation Jan. 4.

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