Atlanta Developers Versus the Deceased

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Atlanta City Councilman C.T. Martin caught some flack last month when he voted to approve a developer's plan to dig up bodies buried in a cemetery in Atlanta's tony Buckhead neighborhood. The developer claimed that when he bought the lot, he was unaware that it was a burial ground, but now the bones were in the way of his plans for the property. The other 11 council members voted against the measure, leaving the dead to rest in peace, but developers versus the deceased is a more persistent problem than one might think.
A planned expansion of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas got put on hold last year when construction workers accidentally unearthed coffins and human bones from an unmarked cemetery. According to USA Today, an unmarked burial site holding more than 1,000 bodies from the 19th century were exhumed in 2006 to make way for the Pima County courthouse in Arizona. A 1991 project to build a Manhattan federal office building unearthed the remains of 400 slaves buried there.

While unmarked burial sites can haunt urban building sites, they present problems in the suburbs, too.

As planned communities crept further and further from city centers during the suburban building boom of the last decade, property owners that had held on to family farms found lucrative deals selling them off to developers. In centuries past, burying family members, friends and slaves in the backyard was more common.

Although grave markers may have deteriorated with time, Kay Simpson, vice president for Louis Berger and Associates, a firm that performs archaeological surveys, says some physical clues can tip off builders. When domestic wildflowers, like periwinkle or tulips, pop up in a field, it's unlikely that that spot was being used for agriculture, she says. Aerial photography or even ground-penetrating radar can help highlight unusual plowing patterns, too.

Developers have to get permission from the government to dig up and rebury bodies. This often involves making an attempt to contact any living relatives and securing their permission, which can sometimes be a tough sell.

Back in Atlanta, the city council members had heard emotional testimony from family members begging to let their dead remain unmoved, foiling the builders plans. At least the developer can guarantee the buyer will have quiet neighbors.


See Buckhead, Atlanta homes for sale at AOL Real Estate.
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