About 25 people attended a public hearing Wednesday on moving the burial ground at a proposed industrial park site on Gypsum Road.
Six of the attendees spoke out against plans to remove building foundations and a still-standing chimney at the site, as well as a burying ground believed to be a slave cemetery. They said the property — which was built by Thomas Fearn, one of the trustees when Danville was formed in 1793 — is an important local site that should be preserved intact.
Studies by the state Department of Historic Resources failed to find the site historically significant and ruled it ineligible for listing on the National Register.
The Danville Industrial Development Authority has secured permits for development phase one of the project, in the section that holds the ruins. It has now applied for permission to move the burial ground, which requires a permit from the state.
Plans call for the graves to be moved to a more accessible area of the site, where parking and easy access will be possible. Bricks and stones from the foundations will be used to build features in the new cemetery, and a historic marker and signs describing the history of the site will be included.
Sonja Ingram, field representative for Preservation Virginia, said she believes it is possible to save both the ruins and the burial ground, while still allowing development.
Others spoke out specifically about moving what they believe are slave graves.
“We should honor these men and women who were not free to choose where they lived,” Susan Stilwell said.
Raymond Robertson, who has preserved a family burial ground on Riverside Drive, said, “There are a lot of things the city can do besides desecrate the graves.”
Jim Gosney, a Danville native who now lives in Norfolk, said he has seen developers and preservationists work together to find “amiable solutions” in ways that increased cultural tourism.
Gretchen Clark, president of Reynolds-Clark Development Inc. — the company working with the IDA on developing the site — said seven letters of opposition to the project had been received during the public comment time, which culminated at the meeting.
Those letters, with two more dropped off at the meeting and the comments made during the meeting, will be forwarded to the state for consideration during its decision on whether or not to issue a permit to move the graves.
The IDA maintains that preserving the ruins and the graves would negatively impact the project. Because of environmental concerns, only about 73 acres of the 165-acre site can be developed, and eliminating additional acreage currently holding the ruins and grave site would decrease industrial building capacity by up to 500,000 square feet.