Opponents of building plan in Annapolis win reprieve

City rejects house on possible cemetery

January 05, 2000|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Opponents of a plan to construct a house on Annapolis land believed to be an old black cemetery won a reprieve last night when the city Board of Appeals denied a variance required to build on the property.

Walter Czerwinski, who owns 0.62 acres at 391 Georgetown Road, applied for a variance to build a single-family home on the land. Several members of the Annapolis-area black community protested Czerwinski's plan because they believe members of one of the city's first prominent black families, the Pinkneys, were buried on the site in the late 1800s.

Czerwinski may appeal the board's decision but may not reapply for the variance for a year. He refused to comment except to say that he was disappointed.

Czerwinski needs the variance to build because there is a 100-foot gradual slope toward Back Creek on his land.

"We have what the city of Annapolis said is a buildable lot," he said.

Czerwinski's land is part of the 89 acres that London Pinkney, a free black, purchased in 1871. The Pinkney family designated the property a cemetery in 1888, and the site has been listed in land records as a cemetery ever since.

The Pinkneys are well-known in Annapolis history. London Pinkney was a founder of Mount Moriah Church on Franklin Street, one of the city's first black churches. Pinkney Street, a narrow road off the City Dock area where blacks lived at the turn of the century, was named after his son, who built the first house along that stretch.

Although Pinkney descendants believe London Pinkney and other family members are buried on the land, Annapolis planners have said they are not sure whether the land contains any graves.

No mounds or gravestones are visible, which is not unusual for a cemetery that is more than 100 years old, a Maryland Historical Trust archaeologist said. The city Department of Planning and Zoning has commissioned an archaeologist to conduct a dig on the site to determine whether there are graves.

Opponents of the construction plan who attended last night's meeting said they were pleased with the outcome.

"We believe that my family was buried there," said Odessa Pinkney Ellis, 53, great-granddaughter of London Pinkney. "Now let's go ahead and investigate that."

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