The state's highest court has sided with residents who have been fighting a housing development proposal at a Pikesville cemetery in a years-long case.
The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in a decision late last month that a covenant dating to 1913 "clearly and unambiguously" requires all 200 acres of the Druid Ridge Cemetery to be maintained and operated as a cemetery. A development group had hoped to build homes on 36 acres that do not contain any grave sites.
The decision reverses previous decisions by the Baltimore County Circuit Court and the Court of Special Appeals, which had sided with the developers and cemetery owners. Judges in those courts had said that the covenant was ambiguous and that "radically changed circumstances in the area rendered the restrictive covenant ineffective and unenforceable."
"This has been years in the making," said Pikesville community activist Alan Zukerberg, who has been fighting potential development at the cemetery.
Community members contend that a 1999 contract between the cemetery owners and Druid Ridge LLP violated the covenant. In 2006, the Dumbarton Improvement Association and the Long Meadow Neighborhood Association, as well as individual residents and people who own burial plots there, sued to stop the development plans.
The developers planned to build 56 semi-detached homes on the land. Druid Ridge LLP has ties to the Towson-based firm Caves Valley Partners, according to state records. Attorneys for both the community groups and the developers did not return calls seeking comment on the court decision.
Residents were worried about the environmental impact of housing development on the land and feared it could open the doors to more building at the cemetery, Zukerberg said.
"If we didn't stand up and say, 'You can't build,' we are concerned that there would be other acreage that the cemetery could [sell] for other purposes," he said.
The court opinion describes the cemetery as having been "at the vanguard" of a movement to make cemeteries like parks when it opened in the late 19th century.
"The entire cemetery is considered a park," said Doris Kahl Miller, who was part of the lawsuit and has family members buried at Druid Ridge. People "walk their dogs through there. They jog, they ride their bikes. It's just a wonderful place."
Miller, who lives in Lutherville, said her father's family had members' remains moved to Druid Ridge in the 1900s from another location.
"They thought the cemetery was so beautiful," she said.