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Construction of New Ballston Development Could Disturb Human Remains

by Tim Regan September 16, 2016 at 3:50 pm 0

(Updated at 4:57 p.m.) A new plan to build a mixed-use building in Ballston could mean uncovering some human remains in the process.

Ballston Station Housing Corporation, a nonprofit established by the Central United Methodist Church, seeks to redevelop the church at 4201 Fairfax Drive into an eight-story development that would contain a new house of worship, 132 residential units with affordable housing, a daycare and preschool facility and charitable facilities.

But there’s a snag: The site they want to build on was once the Robert Ball Graveyard, the final resting place of some members of the family behind the Ballston name. Today, several white headstones can be seen scattered across the church grounds.

In order to excavate the old graveyard, the developers need to get a permit from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. They also need to hold a public meeting to notify surrounding community members and possible descendants of the Ball family.

Still, the developer behind the project isn’t so sure there are even any human remains left to uncover.

“Nobody actually really knows,” said Tad Lunger, legal representative for the developer. Lunger added that he thinks workers digging utility trenches and tunnels for the nearby Ballston Metro station may have uncovered any leftover remains years ago.

Boyd Sipe, an archaeologist hired by the developers to survey the site, isn’t sure there’s anyone buried there, either. Sipe recently conducted a ground-penetrating radar survey of the graveyard that turned up “inconclusive.”

“The GPR survey identified several anomalies that had potential to be graves but could be other subsurface features,” Sipe said. “There’s really no evidence that there are graves on the site, but we want to be ready with the state permit in case graves are found.”

In the event the project does uncover any bone fragments or relics, Sipe said they’ll be turned over to a skeletal biologist who will work to analyze and identify them.

But the county says take a closer look.

“There are six marked graves. There could be an additional three,” said Rebeccah Ballo, historic planner with Arlington County. “There is no evidence written or otherwise that shows those graves have ever been exhumed or moved.”

Ballo said she’s heard from some locals who are worried about digging up the graveyard.

“People have contacted my office concerned about it,” Ballo said. “It is a very old graveyard. It’s been a fixture of the neighborhood for a very long time.”

“This is not something that has happened in Arlington County in recent memory,” Ballo added.

The developers will hold a public meeting regarding the site at the Central United Methodist Church on Oct. 6.

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