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Planning Department Recognizes Protests and Invites Public to Testify About Site of Possible African-American Cemetery at February 23 Meeting

February 15, 2017

Developer Equity One will present a sketch plan for the Westwood Shopping Center property, excluding the area where an African-American cemetery may be located, on February 23

Silver Spring, MDThe Montgomery County Planning Department, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), has learned that protests are planned for Thursday, February 16 and Thursday, February 23 at the Planning Department. The protests will highlight issues related to the possible presence of an African-American burial site on the Westwood Shopping Center property in Westbard. This property is privately owned by Equity One and slated for redevelopment in the future.

During the process for the Westbard Sector Plan which began in 2014, the Planning Department became aware of the possible African-American cemetery and has remained committed to respecting the county’s heritage in the planning process. In every plan area, staff always works to be thorough and respectful of Montgomery County’s history, culture and people.

Staff brought its research about the possible cemetery to the attention of the Macedonia Baptist Church, an historically African-American institution on River Road. This type of research is a significant part of the work undertaken for every plan and one of the reasons why the planning process exists.

Steps to resolving issues raised by the community
In recent months, the Montgomery County Planning Department has initiated and facilitated conversations with the church, community members and the developer who owns the land where the burial ground may be located. The Planning Department’s intention in this process has been to accomplish the following:

-Require the developer, Equity One, to explore thoroughly the possibility of an African-American cemetery on its property and conduct a respectful investigation.

-Refrain from reviewing any development on the part of the site in question until the investigation is completed.

-Ensure that any archeological work done on the site is reviewed by outside academic experts for accuracy.

-Encourage Equity One to be fully responsive to community concerns.

The community is invited to give comments at the February 23 Planning Board meeting when Equity One’s sketch plan for the Westbard Shopping Center property will be reviewed. Sign up to testify by completing the online form on the Planning Board website.

The Planning Department recognizes the significance of the possible burial ground to the community. The Director of the Planning Department will speak with the community members who gather on February 16 and 23 and will listen to their concerns.

The media is welcome to attend the protests and Planning Board meetings to learn more about the possible Westbard burial ground and plans to investigate the site. A staff report on the Westwood Shopping Center Sketch Plan is posted online.