A developer has backed away from buying land believed to be on an old African American Cemetery in Montgomery County, Maryland.
The $51 million deal developer Charger Ventures had in the works with the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, was held up in court after the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) challenged the sale.
The property is on the Westwood Tower Apartments, whose parking lot was developed on top of part of the Moses Cemetery, where an estimated 200 African Americans were buried.
The BACC wanted to stop the sale of the property on the basis that doing so, without giving proper attention to the potential burials under a portion of the property, was illegal.
“There’s a law that was passed by the legislature which actually says a landowner cannot sell a piece of land which contains a cemetery without working closely with the community,” said David Ward, spokesman for the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition. “Nobody’s ever used that law before. I think we’re the first case of this sort.”
In a ruling last month, Circuit Judge Karla Smith granted an injunction, halting the sale until a hearing.
However, with a developer stepping away from the purchase, the property’s future is up in the air once again. But Ward said he is hopeful that this is a sign of good things to come.
“It is a victory and it reflects that, I think, people are beginning to understand as developers they can’t just have anything they want. That’s been happening for a long time in Montgomery County, all the way back into the 20s and 30s,” Ward said.
While the Housing Opportunities Commission is attempting to sell the land to create more housing in Montgomery County, the coalition wants ownership of the area, where remains are believed to be, so they can turn it into a memorial for those buried below.
“We believe we will succeed in getting them to sit down with us as fellow citizens and figure out how to rededicate this cemetery area that was so dear to so many people,” said Ward.