MIAMI — The plight of what many believe to be a black cemetery in the Lemon City area of Miami will likely become clearer after a Sept. 1 meeting of the City of Miami's Historic Environmental Preservation Board.
On that date, local historian Enid Pinkney said, the board will determine whether the cemetery qualifies for historic designation.
“That's just the preliminary hearing. That hearing only says that there is evidence that it could be, it doesn't designate it as historic,” she told the South Florida Times on Tuesday, Aug. 18.
The purported cemetery is at the site of the proposed Village Carver residential towers now under construction by the Carlisle Development Group and Biscayne Housing Group. Since the discovery of human remains there in June, Pinkney and others have fought to have the development's construction halted.
N. Patrick Range, an attorney for the developers, told the South Florida Times on Tuesday that his client has agreed not to build on the site where the human remains were discovered and is willing to "preserve and memorialize the graves." That agreement notwithstanding, Range said the outcome of the Sept. 1 meeting before the preservation board may jeopardize the affordable housing project and the developer's ability to create a memorial there.
"We're not against them putting up the memorial, they could put up the memorial, just don't build on the cemetery. I'm not in favor of them digging those people up and putting them someplace else so they can put some apartments up there," Pinkney said.
At an August 17 meeting to discuss the cemetery's future, Pinkney and other community members reiterated their position that no additional building occur on the site, on Northwest 71st Street near Interstate 95. The first phase of a multi-phase affordable housing development has already been completed. During construction of the subsequent phase, construction workers unearthed human remains and what appear to be parts of broken caskets.
Pinkney's group is moving forward with plans to have the site designated as a historic landmark, a designation she said is warranted.
"We want that kind of recognition to be given to the site. We think it deserves it," she said, adding, "We need protection."
At the Aug. 17 meeting, Pinkney said the group decided to seek incorporation en route to securing non-profit status, electing officers and a board of directors.
"We're calling ourselves the Lemon City Cemetery Task Force. We have become independent so that we can make our own decisions," said Pinkney, who was elected to become the group's chairperson.
The newly formed organization is clear on its desire: "No further building on the site. Period," according to Pinkney, who said she is sympathetic to the developer's situation, but unwilling to compromise her position. Besides, she said, the application for historic designation has already been submitted.
"The little rub that we have with the developer is they're saying that when that happens, that puts a moratorium on the building, you know, their ability to build. And as a result, it might cause them to lose money if it takes too long. They feel like this timing is bad for them," Pinkney explained.
Range said any delays caused by a moratorium placed on the site by the preservation board would jeopardize the development's funding, which includes government subsidies.
"Our funding is very critical, not only to the development, [but it] also makes possible the opportunity to memorialize and preserve the site. Everything that has been done to date, in terms of the research regarding the site, and the studies that have been done to locate what remains are on the site has been at their expense, by their choice," Range explained.
The developer's implication that the site may only be memorialized if the development continues does not sit well with Pinkney.
"They're saying that if we're not going along with what they need to happen, [the memorial] might not happen. If that doesn't happen, so it doesn't happen. It means that we will have to raise money to do it," she explained.
Photo: Enid Pinkney