County looks into ordinance to protect historic cemeteries, burial grounds
Supervisors agreed unanimously Tuesday to provide direction to county staff to research and develop language for an ordinance that would include a provision to ensure a buffering area is created around existing cemeteries and burial grounds to protect Loudoun’s cultural resources.
The decision came amid an ongoing effort led by Holy and Whole Life Ministries Pastor Michelle Thomas to protect the Belmont Slave Cemetery in Ashburn, which is being encroached upon by construction for a road-widening project at the intersection of Route 7 and Belmont Ridge Road.
The historic cemetery site is home to at least 43 former slaves. Construction of the road project is being managed by Loudoun County, and the site is adjacent to a property owned by developer the Toll Brothers.
Thomas said there is currently deed document in the works pending court approval. If approved, the document would give future trustees custody of the cemetery.
Ahead of the board’s final vote, the pastor urged the board to create an ordinance that would protect the Belmont Slave Cemetery and others so her 9-year-old daughter would not have to fight the same battle in the future.
“I hope that if you would pass this, that [my daughter] wouldn’t have to fight and she wouldn’t have to advocate because we we’ll have responsible legislation,” Thomas said.
The ordinance would also include a provision that any identified and delineated cemeteries and burial grounds be clearly mapped on all project plans and profiles submitted to the county during the land development process.
Loudoun County Department of Planning and Zoning Director Ricky Barker said there are already local and state regulations for protecting and preserving cemeteries, but there are no guidelines on the book requiring buffers.
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large), who helped bring forward the idea for the ordinance with Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg), said Loudoun lacked clear guidance around the protection of cemeteries, so the county could not simply rely on the word of a developer to protect such a sacred site.
“Although I think we have a wonderful development community, I don’t particularly want to leave the decision of whether they will let us know that they found a headstone to the development community,” the chairwoman said, adding that informing the county would cost developers time and money.
The proposed ordinance also drew wide support from the county’s Heritage Commission. The commission stressed the need for more regulations around the preservation of cemeteries amid Loudoun’s rapid growth and development.
“Right now we have no local ordinances for preventing encroachment onto cemeteries or into cemeteries and in this rapidly developing county,” Heritage Commission member
Lori Kimball told supervisors. “Cemeteries are at risk every time there’s construction on a parcel with the cemetery on it.”
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