Montgomery Co. Planners Order Grounds Examined for Burial Site

WASHINGTON — Residents concerned about what’s underneath part of the proposed Westwood Shopping Center development site in Bethesda brought their issues forward at a Montgomery County Planning and Zoning meeting Thursday.

According to members of the 100-year-old Macedonia Baptist Church on River Road, a small parking area that’s part of the development plan was once the site of a burial ground that was paved over in the 1950s.

“There is no single shred of evidence that the bodies were ever exhumed,” said Segun Adebayo, the church’s pastor. He called the grounds, which are partially covered by a parking lot, a hallowed place and urged development plans to be put on hold.

Members of the church also sought to encourage the developers, Equity One, to return the land to the church or county and allow a museum to be placed there that would tell the story of African-Americans living in Montgomery County over the last century.

An initial sketch for the Westwood Shopping Center project was on the table at the meeting. Developers urged the county to not delay its plans for the 1.8 million-square-foot project, but did agree to hire an archaeological firm to examine the area for human remains where the cemetery was thought to be.

“We’re going to do the assessment. We’re going to take it where it leads and we are not going to touch it until that has been completed,” said Barbara Sears, an attorney for Equity One.

Once ground-penetrating radar is brought in and the property is examined, the area where the cemetery is believed to sit will be off limits in the planning process. The developers have two months to examine the property and bring the results back to the board.

If no remains are found, the developer will be allowed to move forward and submit its preliminary plan for putting up mixed-use buildings along Westbard Avenue.

Residents also raised other concerns about the project, including the loss of small businesses in the area, the additional traffic and changes to Westbard Avenue to accommodate the development.

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