Community activists who hope to overturn a plan to build soccer fields on school system-owned land in Montgomery County suffered a setback Tuesday, when the Maryland Board of Education upheld the local school board’s decision.
The 20-acre property on Brickyard Road in Potomac has been leased to an organic farmer for 30 years. But last year, the Montgomery Board of Education approved a plan to lease the property instead to the county to be used as soccer fields. The plan galvanized protests from neighbors, open government advocates, and environmentalists.
Curt Urhe, a spokesman for the Brickyard Coalition, a citizens group, said it plans to appeal the state Board of Education ruling in Circuit Court and that the group is mounting a more comprehensive lawsuit.
“We aren’t in the ninth inning; This is more like the third inning,” said Uhre, who lives near the farm on Brickyard Road, where neighbors have long fought to calm traffic.
Nick Maravell, the organic farmer who manages the farm, asked a circuit court judge for an injunction to stay on the land when his lease expired this March. In a settlement, the county permitted him to stay until Aug. 15. Maravell on Tuesday said he does not yet know what he plans to do next.
Community opponents of the plan maintain that the school system and county officials forged a back-room deal to transfer the property to the county to be developed by a private youth soccer organization. In 2011, the Maryland Open Meetings Law Compliance Board found that the local school board did violate provisions to the Open Meetings Act when it approved the new lease agreement with the county.
And this month, a circuit court judge ordered the county to turn over documents related to the deal that the Brickyard Coalition requested -- but never received -- under public information laws.
But the state board of education ruling, which addressed 41 separate appeals and was pending for more than a year, found that the school board acted within its rights to re-purpose the land.
Montgomery County spokesman Patrick Lacefield said the transition from soybeans to soccer-plex is underway, despite pending or proposed legal actions. “We are moving ahead,” he said. “Our intention is to move ahead to use this public land for public purposes. It will be used as ball fields.”
Before the county can break ground, though, the design for the new soccer complex will need to go through a public planning process, where traffic and other impacts will be studied. That is sure to be another contentious process.