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After more grave discoveries, Tampa reconsiders cemetery definition

In the last few months, archaeologists found hundreds of graves from two African American cemeteries in Tampa.
Credit: Emerald Morrow/10News

TAMPA, Fla. — In the same week the Columbia Restaurant Group said archaeologists detected 115 graves from Zion Cemetery on company property along North Florida Avenue, Tampa City Council moved forward with plans to better define what a cemetery actually is.

“The lawyers took a look at our previous definition and it was kind of vague. It just said someplace where human remains might be,” said District 3 Councilman John Dingfelder. “So, the lawyers tightened up that language, added a lot more to it to make sure that we're all speaking about the same issue. So regardless of how old that cemetery might be, if you're aware of it, it needs more protection.”

In the last few months, archaeologists found hundreds of graves from two African American cemeteries in Tampa. The first came after a former county worker tipped the Tampa Bay Times to possible graves at Zion Cemetery under Robles Park Village. The graves are spread out over three properties. Archaeologists have found at least 126 graves at Robles. In December, they found 55 additional graves at a towing lot next door. Then on Tuesday, CRG announced 115 more one parcel businessman Richard Gonzmart hoped to develop into a culinary school.

There was also the discovery of Ridgewood Cemetery in a field at King High School. Geophysical technicians found 145 graves there in November.

RELATED: Medical Examiner: The bodies under King High School were properly buried

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“As we've seen over the last few months, we don't know where all cemeteries are. And the code changes tighten up the definition of what is a cemetery, and hopefully, will enable us to do a better job of locating cemeteries and enforcing the protection of cemeteries.”

The city council unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance.

Emerald Morrow is a reporter with 10News WTSP. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@wtsp.com. To read more about the search for lost African American burial grounds in the Tampa Bay area, head to wtsp.com/erased.

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