Human remains discovery not stopping Franklin Summit development

Published 12:54 pm Thursday, July 9, 2009

FRANKLIN – Construction continues at the Franklin Summit condominium development on North College Drive–except for an area near the street roped off with police tape. Just days ago construction workers found human remains while digging at the site.

“It’s not uncharacteristic to find bones in a site like this,” said Brian Rowe, a partner in Franklin Summit, the Suffolk-based development group that is building the project. “We are keeping our eyes out for any other remains.”

Rowe said that construction workers often uncover old burial sites or cemeteries while working at similar sites. The area was forested land until it was cleared out earlier this year for the development. He doesn’t expect to find remains scattered all over the construction site. In situations like this, he said remains are normally found in a relatively condensed area.

“We want to give these remains all due respect,” he said. Rowe said that he hasn’t seen a legal injunction to stop construction in the area where the remains were found.

“It’s probably not required,” he said. “We’ve been doing what the police tell us to do.” Franklin City Attorney Taylor Williams agreed, “I don’t see the necessity of filing an injunction to stop them from working at this time.”

The area where the remains were discovered is slated to become the edge of a pond being built on the property, which has allowed construction to continue on the buildings and roads in the development.

“It’s not hindering us too bad,” Rowe said.

Human remains were first discovered at the site on June 30 and more were found on July 2. Franklin Police were called to investigate, but concluded that no crime had been committed. According to Franklin Police spokesman Lt. Tim Whitt, the police are interested in finding out if the area was actually an old cemetery or gravesite, but they are not formally investigating it as a criminal act.

“It’s not in fact a crime,” Whitt said. “We don’t have any further involvement.”

The remains were sent to a state forensics lab for testing. Taylor Williams said that he was told that testing showed that the bones could be 125 years old.

Williams said that digging up a gravesite is a possible criminal offense; it isn’t in this situation because the graves were “accidentally disinterred.”

“There wasn’t any indication that there were graves there before construction started,” he said.

Virginia has strict rules regarding the handling of human remains. The development company must go to the circuit court and file a petition to move the remains, determine a next of kin, and get permission. If a next of kin can’t be found, then the court has to grant permission. Williams said that the court usually grants permission if the developer agrees to re-inter the remains in another area.

“The hang-up would be how to advise the next of kin,” he said. The graves were unmarked–and very old.

Rowe said that the development company has an attorney who is handling all of the legal issues surrounding properly moving and handling the remains in order to continue with construction. He also said that the city, the police and the city attorney have all dealt with the situation well.

“They have been easy to work with and handed the situation professionally,” he said.

The discovery of bones at the site may have been inconvenient–and disturbing, but it hasn’t been the biggest factor hindering the project.

“The rain has been affecting us more than anything,” he said. “We’re still hoping for a fall opening of the model building.”