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Column: A $350,00 Golden Fleecing

Brickyard School Site Anniversary Update

This month marks the one year anniversary since our community was blindsided by the County Executive's plan to build a soccerplex of up to four full-sized fields plus parking where organic farmer Nick Maravell has leased 20 acres for the last 31 years. First, the County leased the site from the Board of Education (BOE) with the intention of contracting the property out to a private club or soccer developer. Neither Mr. Maravell, the immediate neighbors nor the community knew about it until three days before the BOE voted on the lease. Subsequently, the County Executive has issued a request for proposals but as yet no soccer club/developer has been named.

Meanwhile, our community has sustained the outrage first voiced at so-called “public” meetings held by the Executive last year, which drew hundreds of people concerned about a process that never included them. We have since organized into a Brickyard Coalition consisting of several civic organizations including WMCCA and many hundreds of residents. We have appealed to the Maryland State BOE and that appeal is proceeding, but Montgomery County has belatedly requested to intervene. Since we knew nothing about what led to this decision we were forced to file numerous Maryland Public Information requests in November of 2011. All records were to have been produced within 30 days, but the County has continued to stonewall, and still fails to produce meaningful response documents. We are reviewing available legal options to have the Courts force Mr. Leggett to obey the law.

We continue to maintain the Potomac Subregion Master Plan has been violated and deliberately misinterpreted by the County Executive to justify creating a soccer complex where a school or local park should be located. We continue to believe a deal was made and that the BOE lease is illegal. We continue raising money to fund the appeal with the State BOE, the Maryland Public Information Act lawsuit, as well as upcoming legal actions that will ultimately allow us as citizens to participate in deciding the best use of the Brickyard property. You can make a contribution by writing a check to WMCCA with Brickyard Fund in the memo line. Send to P.O. Box 59335, Potomac, MD 20854-9335.

— Remember the Golden Fleece Awards awarded annually by the late U.S. Senator Proxmire? They signaled out for ridicule wasteful, unnecessary government projects that often benefited only a special few. They diverted money away from projects that truly were needed. Even if you don't remember the awards, no one wants to be “fleeced.” But that is just what happened to local citizens when Montgomery County's Department of Environmental Protection awarded a contract allegedly to carry out the Glen Hills study mandated in the 2002 Potomac Subregion Master plan.

The County Council appropriated $350,000 for the study — over $1,000 per Glen Hills household! What are we getting for that money? Unfortunately, a study that contradicts the Master Plan and fails to fund work that would actually be useful to the community. As reported in last month's newsletter, DEP awarded the contract without any input from the public and initially refused to release the scope of work even after award. This occurred even though the Master Plan required that it be “conducted in coordination with the citizens of the area.”

Over 200 neighbors attended a DEP public meeting at Lakewood Elementary School on Feb. 21 to find out what pig in a poke we had bought with our tax dollars. Now it is clear why there was no public input. The study description confirms our worst nightmares — that it would be over-reaching and form a basis to force sewer on low density areas that do not want sewer and that are not to be sewered under the Potomac Master Plan.

The Master Plan requires a narrow study of “septic failures in Glen Hills to develop measures necessary to ensure the long term sustainability of septic service . . . and to address the need for limited sewer extensions if needed.” At the public meeting DEP admitted the contract goes beyond the Master Plan and that instead of septic failures it will evaluate all “existing septic systems and wells within the area based on past and present design standards.” Thus, even though a septic system has never failed it will be evaluated. There is a real fear that the results will be used to conclude that sewer is necessary because, although it met “past design standards” (and functions successfully), it was not constructed under “present design standards.”

Furthermore, the County unilaterally expanded the study area beyond Glen Hills to include: Glen Hills Club Estates, North Glen Hills, Potomac Highlands, Glen Park, Lakewood Estates, Lakewood Glen and Hollinridge. Hollinridge is of particular concern because it is not contiguous with Glen Hills and borders on the Piney Branch Stream Valley, a Special Protection Area in which sewer extensions are severely limited under the Master Plan.

At the public meeting, neighbors requested additions to the scope of work that would actually be useful:

  • A separate list of failed septics and why they failed.

  • Water quality testing of wells.

  • Advice on how to construct and maintain successful septic systems using real life Glen Hills conditions.

  • Monthly public meetings to update the community on the study results.

DEP rejected all of these stating the details of the study had already been determined and the contract awarded. And we might add — clearly without public input. So — for $350,000 we are getting what we didn't need or want. And there is no money for what would actually have been useful. We truly were fleeced! The DEP website describing the study: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/dectmpl.asp?url=/content/dep/water/glenhills.asp.

Potomac Swim and Recreation Association Indoor Tennis Bubble FacilitiesAs required by the conditions of the Club's Special Exception, representatives of the Club met with a representative of WMCCA and the surrounding neighbors on March 1. They reviewed the status of the facility and, in particular, confirmed the following: the bubble will be taken down for the season on or before April 15; there are now three types of membership; use of the facility is limited to members and their guests playing with them; no non-member groups such as schools or camps are using the facility; surveillance equipment will not be used to photograph, or record conversations on, surrounding neighbors' properties; and, hours of operation are 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Club disclosed that it had applied for a use and occupancy permit to use the trailer currently on the site as a tennis office until the permanent office is constructed. WMCCA is checking whether the terms of the Special Condition would permit such a use.