Legal protections for properties of potential archaeological significance that are facing development pressures in the Chesapeake Bay watershed grew in geographic scope but lost a real-world test this summer.

In what was hailed as “a historical moment” by the city’s historical preservation planner, the Board of Aldermen in Frederick, MD, unanimously passed amendments to the city’s Land Management Code requiring many properties proposed for development to be evaluated by an archaeologist before ground is broken.

The protections apply to any site already identified as being of historical or archaeological relevance, new subdivisions and any proposed project measuring 5,000 or more square feet. The guidelines also explain how researchers will determine if artifacts are valuable and should be studied.

Proponents of the city’s new archeological regulations posed challenges of different stripes to prominent civic leaders.

Jack Lynch, who first unsuccessfully pushed Frederick County officials to enact archaeological protections for properties slated for development before focusing his attention on influencing those in Frederick city, told a local newspaper, “I think the county should be a little embarrassed. The county usually is the leader in progressive planning. I think the city has one up on them here.”

Said the city’s preservation planner: “It’s a well-honed document that may serve as a model for the state.”

Meanwhile, in Prince George’s County, the County Council voted to approve rezoning to allow the proposed construction of 18 houses on a 23.5-acre parcel of historical import near Fort Washington, MD.

Called the River’s Edge property by those who would develop it, Tent Landing by those who believe it was the site of a Revolutionary War skirmish where the colonists prevailed, the Lyle’s Tract by those who refer to the 19th century farm and fishery that operated along the banks, and Tessamatuck by those who believe it to be the site of a large Piscataway-Conoy Native American village, the landscape has been the backdrop for a 3-year struggle over its future (See “Future of the past pits preservationists against developers,” July-August).

Concern over the preservation of artifacts that may persist on the site—about 18,000 artifacts have reportedly already been unearthed there—spurred Prince George’s County’s Historic Preservation Commission to develop a landmark comprehensive protocol for the archaeological exploration that would precede development countywide. The commission’s recommendations would in most cases direct developers to reduce the impacts of their work on artifacts before moving ahead with construction,

But the County Council concluded that the River’s Edge developer, Leo Bruso, had completed enough archaeological studies and voted to let the project go ahead. “They looked at the facts and what is best for Prince George’s County and not a dozen individuals who want nothing done on this property,” Bruso said.

Critics of the project said the action raised questions about whether the archaeological protocols would ever be able to head off certain developments.

“This will be something we’ll have to appeal to the Circuit Court,” said Dawn Davit, the president of a local citizens association, who also voiced dismay that her local council representative “did not listen to the voice of the constituents.”