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Column: Citizens Prevail on Brickyard

WMCCA Meeting

The West Montgomery County Citizens Association will meet at the Potomac Community Center on Wednesday, March 13, at 7:15 p.m. If schools are closed because of inclement weather, the meeting will be cancelled.

The speakers will be Brickyard Coalition leaders. Like so many opposition campaigns, it started around a kitchen table in a quiet neighborhood two years ago. Since then, Brickyard Coalition steering committee leaders have met every two weeks to plan strategy, discuss meetings with countless government officials, develop press releases, coordinate efforts and raise money for legal actions. Coalition leaders have been tireless in their perseverance to stop a commercial soccer complex that violated our Master Plan and excluded all public input. They have been the leading edge of what has become a community effort that reached well beyond Potomac, and serves as a model of what citizens can do when they are denied a voice by their own government. Come join in celebrating the rights our community defended during the Brickyard struggle and discuss what may be next for the Brickyard Road school site. As always the public is welcome to attend.

Just two years ago, at West Montgomery County Citizens Association’s March 2011 meeting, we learned that there was to be a commercial soccer complex on Brickyard Road’s 20 acres owned by the Board of Education as a future school site and used as an organic farm for the past thirty years.

The County Executive announced that the property was to become a soccerplex, with the board leasing the land to the county, which in turn would sublease to a soccer club — a plan developed in closed-door meetings involving the County Executive, the board and a private group, starting in 2009. All of this was done without the community’s knowledge, with no opportunity for input, and bypassing the county’s processes to determine land use. We were told that this was a done deal, with community input limited to the number of fields and parking spaces. In fact, there were to be four soccer fields and 300 parking spaces, as well as concession stands and bathrooms — a development that, under normal circumstances, zoning laws would not allow.

This news resulted in a large public outcry from supporters of the farm and opponents to a soccerplex in a residential neighborhood. Shortly after learning of, and in opposition to, the soccerplex, the Brickyard Coalition was formed, including WMCCA, the Brickyard Road Citizens Association, the Civic Association of River Falls, and more than 2,000 members of the community. While this issue had important ramifications for the farm and surrounding community, there were bigger issues at play — no public input or transparency in the process, violating the Potomac Master plan and the county’s zoning laws, and providing public land to a private corporation for its exclusive use. This plan, if allowed to go forward, would set a dangerous precedent, and no community would be safe from covert planning and private development on public land.

After two years, the Brickyard Coalition has been successful in halting the soccerplex, with a dedicated group of community activists spending hours and hours in meetings and hearings. Critically, the coalition initiated a series of legal actions seeking public documents under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) related to two years of secret dealing by our county government — documents which by law are to be made available to the public upon request. The coalition also entered into two lawsuits, with WMCCA part of the MPIA action as well as a Plaintiff in the second lawsuit.

Finally, the citizens prevailed. The county has surrendered the lease, and the land is back in the control of the Board of Education. It should not take this level of organization and lawsuits for residents to have a voice in this type of decision. One good outcome of this challenge is Bill 11-12 passed by the County Council, requiring the County Executive to seek approval before disposing of county real property through sale or long-term lease. If Potomac’s ordeal results in a more open and responsive county government with more checks and balances, then everyone will have benefitted.