Possible burial ground in Bethesda at center of debate

A possible burial ground on River Road in Montgomery County is at the center of a debate.

BETHESDA, MD (WUSA9) - A piece of land in Bethesda continues to stir debate among developers and a local congregation.

The contested area is located just north of the intersection where River Road and Little Falls Parkway meet. Some locals believe African-American bodies, from the turn of the century, remain buried underneath that land.

That same portion of land has also interested several developers.

RELATED: Black church fights development in Bethesda

On December 14, the Montgomery County Planning Board approved a proposal that would allow a self-storage company to construct a building near the site. 

A lawyer representing the business' developers told WUSA9 the future building would not be placed on top of the same contested land. However, the developers have been tasked with paying Montgomery County $45,000 to support an archaeological study to learn more about what could be underneath the land.

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the Social Justice Ministry Chair of Macedonia Baptist Church. The historically black congregation lays just across the street from the land that is disputed.

She said she believes Montgomery County will not spend the money on an objective archaeological team and that her congregation does not even know what their archaeological study would consist of.

"The $45,000 is really being spent to pay off some archaeological team so that the county will be able to get the kind of documentation it needs to prove that our ancestors are not located there," Coleman-Adebayo said.

She added that her church, which opposes the development, would like to bring in experts of their own to investigate the entire situation.

In the meantime, the church has requested that the county's historic preservation commission take over the process involving the land.

The county's planning department released a statement that said it was pleased to know the board's vote would provide land for a nearby greenway and that it looks forward to working with the community to figure out what is underneath the land.

"We are pleased that the first step towards Westbard's Willett Branch Greenway has been accomplished through future dedication of land to M-NCPPC," the statement read. "This parcel of land will eventually be studied and analyzed by professional archeologists and we look forward to working with the community during this process."

© 2018 WUSA-TV


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