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Fireworks In February?

Court of Special Appeals rejects county on Brickyard; legality of school board lease to be argued early next year.

— Chief Judge Peter B. Krauser and the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland on Dec. 7, 2012 rejected Montgomery County’s motion that would have allowed moving forward with development of soccer fields on Brickyard Road.

A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge is scheduled to hear arguments on Feb. 8, 2013 to determine whether the school board lease of the land to the county is legal.

An August Montgomery County Circuit Court ruling suspended county plans to force organic farmer Nick Maravell off 20 acres on Brickyard Road. Maravell has leased the property from Montgomery County Public Schools for more than 30 years.

“By this motion, the county attempts to have this Court determine the merits of the Petition for Judicial Review before it is heard by the Circuit Court,” according to Brian E. Barkley, attorney for Brickyard Coalition, which challenged the legality of the Board of Education’s lease of the land to the county to develop soccer fields.

“The fact that a final decision may only be a little over two months away should be sufficient reason to allow the stay to remain in place,” Barkley wrote.

Citing a significant need for ballfields in the downcounty, County Executive Ike Leggett executed plans to turn the Brickyard Road farm site to the county so it could lease the land to MSI for development into soccer fields.

Attorneys for the county called the stay imposed last August an injunction and asked the appeals court to overrule it.

“The trial court’s order does not merely stay State Board’s decision under review, it forbids the County from taking action under its lease with the Local Board. Compounding the error, the trial court issued the injunction based upon a ground that could not be before it (a claim under the Open Meetings Act),” according to County Attorney Marc P. Hansen.

MARAVELL PRODUCES heirloom GMO-free corn and soybean seed on the farm. More recently, his daughter, Sophia Maravell, has run the Brickyard Educational Farm on the site as well, teaching local school children about farming.

In March 2011, Maravell, neighbors and civic organizations in Potomac learned that Leggett had decided to take control of the 20-acres to turn it over to a private organization for development into soccer fields.

The Board of Education voted with only a few days notice to lease the property to the county for that purpose.

Local food advocates, neighbors and civic associations have expressed outrage that there was no public process for the decision. They have asked to turn back the decision and begin a transparent process with public input and discussion.

County council members have also called on the county executive and school board to reconsider plans to turn the farm into soccer fields.

“The violations of the Open Meetings Act resulted in a lack of transparency about the decision-making process. It is the public policy of the State of Maryland to have open meetings since an open government is essential to the maintenance of an open society,” according to Barkley, representing the Brickyard Coalition.

But according to the county, the organic farmer has planted the bad seeds during this ongoing controversy.

The county extended Maravell’s lease during the legal challenges, county attorneys said.

“It is apparent … that the Appellees have acted in bad faith. There is no substantial justification for their conduct or for their claims against the county. The county acted in good faith by entering into a License Agreement and a settlement agreement with Appellees Maravell and Cowles and adhering to both. … It is fair to assume that Appellees never had any intention of abiding by the agreements. Courts should not abide such conduct,” according to County Attorney Marc P. Hansen.