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Proposed development in Oxon Hill, next to National Harbor, worries preservationists

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Behind a wire fence not far from National Harbor, the waterfront resort and mini-city in Oxon Hill, are the remains of a once-thriving plantation.

It was called Salubria and was owned by John H. Bayne, a prominent physician and slave owner whose three children were poisoned by a 14-year-old slave named Judith.

All that remains today are weeds, large stones and deteriorated pieces of wood, the remnants of an old milk house.

But the Prince George’s County Historic Preservation Commission is scheduled to decide Tuesday what might be there in the future.

Milton Peterson, the owner of the property and the developer of National Harbor, a mix of residential units, stores, hotels and restaurants, wants the commission to grant a historic area work permit, a move that would allow him to proceed with a more in-depth archaeological study of the site. He plans to build on the land, which was rezoned for mixed-use development in 1993, years before he bought it.

Preservationists are asking instead that the property be maintained, saying it is historically significant.

“They want to erase all the footprints of the buildings on the site,” said June White-Dillard, president of the African American Heritage Preservation Group, a consortium of county nonprofit groups. White-Dillard said that Peterson officials met with the community recently but that they offered few details about the company’s plans for the site.

White-Dillard’s group sent a recommendation to the commission that all 43.8 acres of the property be preserved, even though the commission will consider a request pertaining to only 2.7 acres during its discussion. The milk house structure sits on that portion in the middle of the site. The rest of the land was part of a historic work permit issued years ago.

Andre Gingles, an attorney for National Harbor, said he hopes to discuss a compromise with the African American Heritage Preservation Group that would allow the development to proceed.

“I think that the county has and will continue to support the economic development it has envisioned for the area after the archaeology [study] has been done,” he said.

Gingles said that when the property was rezoned, all of the stakeholders were aware that the land was a former plantation.

He said Peterson is advancing plans that were set in motion eight years ago after the county’s Department of Environmental Resources issued a citation that the structures on the property, which had been destroyed by fire in the 1980s, were unsafe and needed to be demolished.

The commission then issued a historic area work permit to knock down everything on the property, except the milk house. The work permit also allowed for the first phase of an archaeological study, which did not find any evidence of slave quarters.

Last year, the Prince George’s District Council — the designation the County Council takes when it sits to consider zoning and land-use issues — amended the site plan for the area to allow any artifacts to be moved to a more accessible area.

Some county residents want the land to be preserved as part of the county’s portion of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. In 2005, Peterson proposed a retail development on the property, but he withdrew his application after a community activist threatened to sue.

White-Dillard said the property is “not only significant to American history but African American history, too.”

The plantation was built in 1827 by Bayne, a slaveholder and an acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln’s and doctor to Mary Surratt, who was executed for her involvement in Lincoln’s assassination.

The teenage slave who killed Bayne’s three children was hanged in December 1834 in Upper Marlboro.

“I see this as a chance for us not to sweep the facts under the rug,” said Elaine Tutman, 75, who lives in Upper Marlboro and attended the community meeting. “It can be used as a healing process.”

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