A routine maintenance project on Church Circle in historic Annapolis was partially halted yesterday after city workers discovered human remains earlier this week and preservationists raised concerns that the city had not followed proper procedure for working in the historic district.
City workers were digging a trench, raising curbs and replacing bricks at the circle, next to St. Anne's Church in Annapolis, when they discovered a leg bone Tuesday. Workers found additional historic human remains yesterday before stopping part of their work on the $130,000 project.
The city will not work near the area where the bones were discovered while archaeological work is done, said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who added that key elements of the project were approved by the city's Historic Preservation Commission in the early 1990s. The commission must approve most work done in the city's historic district.
City officials also say the work is being done for maintenance, which does not require commission approval. "Everything that has been done has been consistent with the law," Moyer said.
But preservationists say Annapolis is skirting its own laws because city officials did not get recent approval from the commission for the project, which is scheduled to be completed by April.
"The commission has changed and new regulations have been introduced," said Jim Gibb, an archaeologist who contracts with the city.
Gibb said the project is more than maintenance because workers are replacing the curb. And because so many objections have been raised about the project, he said the city should get historic commission approval to set an example.
"Even if this was just a borderline project, the city should have gone to the commission. The city should be raising the bar, not trying to get around rules," he said.
Gibb said he is considering not working with the city anymore because of the project. "This is a great embarrassment to me," he said.
Greg Stiverson, president of the nonprofit Historic Annapolis Foundation, said he agreeswith Gibb. "The city has thumbed its nose at its own laws," he said.
Stiverson and Gibb said they also were concerned that the work is disturbing human remains. Preservationists believe that many 18th-century Annapolis residents were buried in the church graveyard, and that the city was not treating the remains with dignity. Some of the bones found this week were removed with back hoes and bulldozers.
"It is a place you need to be respectful of. You can't do that with heavy equipment," Stiverson said.
Because similar situations have arisen in the past, Moyer has formed a task force to clarify the role of the Historic Preservation Commission. Moyer hopes the task force can make its recommendations by September.