Intro: Lisa Markovitz
This blog post is a Guest Blog from Susan Garber's blog "How Come", and we repeat it here because the subject is dear to us. I was in the process of writing a blog about similar issues that reminded me of the Zoning Referendum of 2013 that I chaired. So, I decided to simply give this blog post a nod instead of writing a similar one. Rezoning cemeteries is a prickly issue. Back during the referendum, when this issue was also raised, we often lamented they would "Rezone your Bones!!" in Howard County. We are glad to hear, that maybe they won't so easily anymore.
How Come? - Susan Garber
April 23rd is Shakespeare’s birthday, (as well as mine), making it ever so appropriate to use one of The Bard’s quotes to introduce today’s post. Shakespeare composed his own Tombstone message which ends with the lines:
‘Blessed be the man that spares these stones.
Cursed be he that move my bones.’
You know you are a land use and development junkie when quotes from Shakespeare make you flash back to last week’s Planning Board meeting—with glee. But indeed the April 20 PB meeting seemed to signal a possible time for Hope and Change. Just when I thought developers’ requests could sink no lower, the request to disinter the remains of 11 members of the Reimensnider family from their family cemetery in Elkridge was before the board. The grounds for the request was that to disallow the disinterment would prevent the developer from realizing his full development rights on the property. It seems that the centuries old cemetery was inconveniently located on high flat ground on an otherwise challenging parcel where new homes were proposed.
Public testimony showed that:
A 5 minute Google search was actually all that was needed to locate family members– despite earlier reports that no living relatives could be located to weigh in on the issue.
There was not actually agreement among surviving relatives as to what was ‘best to do’
A Last Will and Testament from 1876 clearly indicated Charles Reimensnider’s wishes. I direct that the cemetery on my farm wherein members of my family are interred shall never be sold, but reserved as a place of interment for members of my family.”
In the past, the full property rights argument might readily have won over respect for one’s final wishes, respect for historic families, and just plain human decency. But not this time! This was indeed a step/ a reach/ a grab too far…..even in Howard County. To my great and wonderful surprise our planning board members expressed the same horror at what was being proposed as those in the audience. Although the Department of Planning and Zoning recommended approval, the PB members unanimously voted to deny the request!
Maybe, just maybe, in the not too far distant future there will be a realization that our zoning and subdivision regulations delineate a MAXIMUM number of units, rather than the imagined “inalienable right” to that maximum. Perhaps going forward we will agree to be more realistic about the difficulty of constructing homes on the more topographically challenging properties which remain. Perhaps we’ll recognize that sensitive environmental areas and historic structures and yes, human remains, can subtract from the magic number desired. Perhaps, oh dreamer that I am, we’ll consider improving the aesthetic of our built environment, placing quality (of product and of life) over quantity.
Land development, like all business, involves risk. Developers purchase property at their own risk. It is not up to the public or to the government to ‘make them whole’ when their risk doesn’t pay off exactly as they may hope. We allegedly have a Buyer Beware policy here in HoCo, but I’ve seen very little evidence of it.
Land development is in many ways analogous to prospecting for gold. If the land you purchase produces no gold (or less than hoped for), it’s not up to the public to refund your purchase price and buy back your tools. Neither is it up to the public to endure the stripping of forests, the inadequacies of storm water management measures, the elimination of sensitive environmental resources and historic sites, inadequate public facilities—and the disinterment of previous residents– to accommodate perceived maximum development rights.
There was a second indicator of a New Dawn at the April 20 PB meeting, perhaps even more exciting than the cemetery decision. But I’ll save it for another day, when we perhaps get a little closer to the consideration of the APFO legislation by our County Council. I will, however, preview that the PB’s vote was again uncharacteristically brave. I am so proud of how they truly heard the pleas of those testifying, asked strong and probing questions, considered their own experience with reality in HoCo, and voted in response to heartfelt testimony to not further damage our established neighborhoods. Kudos to our Planning Board members!
Keep the faith, continue to participate to make things better—and meet me on the high road,