Adele Schultze looked lovingly at the bushel of eight-inch cabbages she pulled from the large garden at the rear of her yard in Montgomery County's Good Hope Estates, as if to plant permanently in her mind the images of the rotund vegetables. They won't be there next year.
After the cabbages, tomatoes, beans and lettuce are harvested from the 15-by-30-foot garden, Schulze must plow the land under for good - unless she wants to tangle with law.
In its first crackdown on scores of residents who are illegally "encroaching" on public parkland for their private uses, the Montgomery County Planning Board notified nine Good Hope Estates families - Schulze's among them - this week that they must remove their gardens, fences, do gkennels, sheds and play equipment from the parkland behind their own yards.
"I guess they thought we didn't mean business," Deputy Parks Director William L. Colpitts said of the two years of protracted disputes between the planning board and these residents about what the parkland that borders their property could and could not be used for.
"If we let the citizens use the parks for their own purposes, it would be uncontrollable, and besides, citizens who see their neighbors doing this are complaining to us," Colpitts said.
Under the law, according to the letters from the planning commission's general counsel, convicted violators will, be fined up to $500 or jailed for a maximum of 90 days.
The notices gave the residents 10 days to move the structures and fences, with the exception of the gardens, which may be harvested completely. No one, Colpitts said, will be able to buy the land.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Colpitts, whose office has identified 88 similar cases, on the county's 20,000 acres of parkland. Everything from swimming pools to patios has been built, at least in part, on parkland, he said. "In due time we will proceed everywhere the same way."
In Good Hope Estates, a community of $80,000 to $100,000 trilevel, two-story and split-level homes on third of an acre lots, the whole parkland dispute has split the neighborhood into opposing camps. Angry neighbors mention the 'instigators' who brought them to this and suspiciously eye the back yards around them. Some residents have complied with the planning commission's requests over the past two years and others have not.
"It's parkland. I don't own it. I don't pay taxes on it. I have no more right to use it than anyone else," said Lee Medrow, whose husband moved their split-rail fence by himself back to their own property when they were first notified two years ago that they were violating the law.
But down the street, Dennis Dorsey is so furious that he said he and "four or five others" have already decided to sue the county to attempt to keep their fences in place.
"I spent $400 to bulldoze that land and plant it," said Dorsey, glancing at the grassy stretch that extends past the swimming pool just inside his own property line.
"The county hasn't done anything but raise cain. This used to be all weeds. Some people have planted trees. I've tried to buy it, pay taxes on it, lease it," said Dorsey. "They won't let me and I can't possibly see what they can do with the land."
The disputed property abuts the Paint Branch Stream Valley and thickly wooded Maydale Conservation Area that grows wild so that it is not used for playing ball or other active recreation. Several residents have hired lawn services to manicure both their own yards and the parkland near them.
"I'm not going to say the park commission isn't right, because they are," said Lee Wade, who will lose her garden and has already relocated a playhouse to get it off the public land.
But, according to her neightbor Gail Schmall. "They're just looking for something to do."