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Letter: Brickyard Fight Is Far from Over

— To the Editor:

It is dismaying to hear people say that the Brickyard Road School site issue is a done deal and the land lost forever to an MSI (Montgomery Soccer Inc.) soccerplex. It simply isn't true. In the 16 months since the Montgomery County Public School system capitulated to the County Executive's desire to give a private sports club public land for the same price it leased the site to nationally known organic farmer Nick Maravel, this community has mobilized itself and organized with a determination I've never before seen in my 25 years as a community and environmental activist.

Potomac citizens have always been active in land use, zoning and environmental issues because we take seriously our role in the county as one of two low density residential “green wedge” communities intended to buffer and protect the Agricultural Reserve. When our Master Plan was formulated, there was discussion of utilizing the Brickyard site as a “recreation” park for ball fields if it was not going to be a school. Language was drafted to do so but was soundly rejected using petitions, a resolution voted on by WMCCA membership and with help from our then District 1 Councilmember Howie Denis. The subsequent language adopted for the Master Plan was intended to avert just what we now see being forced down our collective throats. The arguments against any sort of sports complex were compelling then and provide a model for those same objections now. Traffic, noise, size of the site, incompatibility with existing land use and inconsistency with the premises of of the Potomac Subregion Master Plan.

Under the umbrella of the Brickyard Coalition, major civic groups and individuals in Potomac have organized, raised money, met with public officials and initiated legal actions; all to obtain the transparency we never received while the County Executive spent 2 years planning in secret to deliver this project to a private sports entity. We have appeals currently pending with the Maryland State Board of Education over the illegal leasing of this property by our local Board of Education to the county. After repeated attempts through the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) to obtain documents from the County Executive, we've discovered 5 whole months of relevant materials have gone missing. They pertain to the early stages of county planning to deliver Brickyard to soccer interests. We've been forced to file legal action to obtain those missing documents.

Though we've had minimal support from our own District 1 Councilman Roger Berliner and even learned he knew about the project at least 6 months before the community did, we've met with and educated a number of Council members on Brickyard and our experience helped shape the recently passed Bill 11-12 that provides needed oversight to county land deals like this one. Finally though, it is at Park and Planning, from whence our Master Plan emanated where we will finally have the public airing never afforded us. The county sublease to MSI stipulates the proposal will be subject to Mandatory Referral. Though advisory, there has rarely been a project that flaunted the findings made by Planning Commissioners in a Mandatory Referral case.

Under Mandatory Referral, submission requirements include plans, drawings, narrative of the proposal, a traffic impact statement, consideration of bicycle and pedestrian safety, a Natural Resource Inventory/Forest Stand Delineation (NRI/FSD) to determine how compliance with the Forest Conservation Law will be achieved; a Water Quality Plan, pedestrian and vehicular circulation maps, proof of compliance with the County Noise Ordinance and architectural schematics. The review will establish whether or not the proposal is inconsistent with the General Plan or other plans or policies for the area, or has negative impacts on surrounding properties, the neighborhood, the transportation network, the environment or other resources.

We, the citizens can and will be involved in every aspect of the review process. There will be a staff packet with recommendations and a public hearing where Maryland National Capital Park and Planning (MNCPPC) Commissioners will deliberate at the conclusion and render an opinion. This will all be done in the open. We've had no transparency to date and we have repeatedly asked for it to no avail. In the Mandatory Referral process a lot of unknowns will be revealed and the applicant will be present to answer questions from the Commissioners we've never even been able to ask. Our community looks forward to finally having a public review of a proposal that for 16 months has excluded us and where the County Executive Office has even stooped to denigrating our legitimate concerns. Meanwhile, we continue seeking whatever administrative relief is available to us while keeping to a strategy that may include more sweeping legal actions. I'm proud of my Potomac community for taking a stand and remaining committed to it. Because they have done so, this fight is very far from over.

Ginny Barnes, Environmental Chair

West Montgomery County Citizens Association

Potomac