Developer to resume Topgolf planning despite findings of slave cemetery

by: Brittney Johnson Updated:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - When developer Matthew Browder bought a large piece of land five years ago, he had no idea what lied beneath.

He showed Channel 9 where radar detected a slave cemetery. 

A newly released report proved there are slave graves on a University City property where developers are trying to build a brand new Topgolf venue. The developers hired a local historian to research the site after neighbors raised concerns over the possibility there was a slave cemetery in the area. 

[RELATED: New Topgolf could border slave cemetery in University City]

White flags mark the 19 bodies buried in shallow graves.

Despite the incredible historical significance, Browder said it will not deter plans to build nearly 400 apartments, 40,000-square feet of retail space and a Topgolf. 

“We are going to make sure this is not disturbed and protected regardless,” Browder said.

"(They) plan on moving forward, which is still shocking," said Darrin Rankin, who opposes the development.

A ground penetration crew, using radar equipment, counted 19 bodies buried right outside the cemetery next to Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church.

Channel 9 reported earlier this month that neighbors claimed there was a slave cemetery on the grounds, and now a historian's 28-page report confirms it.

Charter Properties and Browder Development Group are asking the city to rezone the property.

Developers told Channel 9 that they've spent roughly $20,000 on the cemetery, working with a consultant. They are promising not to disturb the graves and said they plan to work with the church to preserve them.

“There is a right thing to do here, and that's what we're going to do, regardless of what happens,” said Browder. “So whether we get our zoning or don't get our zoning, whether something is approved or not approved, this area is not going to get disturbed, period.”

Neighbors who've been fighting the proposal said they're not satisfied with the report.

“How big is this slave cemetery? How deep into the woods does it go?,” Rankin asked.

The historian who reviewed the property said he is confident they have found the boundaries of the slave cemetery.

Browder said the slaves are buried on less than a tenth of an acre, and he plans on leaving them there.

 “It’s important to the history of the area, and it’s important that these people be recognized and respected,” Browder said.

Topgolf released the following statement:

We remain focused on this location. If we receive City Council approval and our plans progress, we will take very seriously our responsibility to preserve the cemetery and be a good member of the community. We deeply respect the cities we serve, and we care about what this land means.

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