The Brickyard Coalition filed suit Tuesday in Montgomery County Circuit Court, claiming conspiracy and a slew of violations of existing law and code by Montgomery County government, the Board of Education, County Executive Isiah Leggett, and Montgomery Soccer, Inc.
It was the latest salvo in the coalition’s effort to halt proposed development of a parcel of land on Brickyard Road into what the coalition has called “a commercial soccerplex.”
The nine-count complaint argues that the county’s actions in attempting to lease the land on Brickyard Road to Montgomery Soccer, Inc. lacked transparency, did not follow proper developmental protocol, broke existing laws, lowered real estate values and violated the rights of the inhabitants living nearby the development.
“It is outrageous when County citizens are forced to seek legal recourse for what they should have had by right in the first place,” said Ginny Barnes of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association in a statement that accompanied the complaint. “We’ve worked for eighteen long months to restart a process that took place in secret and without any public knowledge. We are simply asking that the BOE and the County obey the law. By consistently and even arrogantly refusing to do so, they've left us no other recourse than to turn to the courts.”
This lawsuit follows a previous one by the Brickyard Coalition seeking documents from the Board of Education, as well as an appeal by coalition members on a local Board of Education decision to lease the parcel of land to Montgomery County. In August, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Robert Greenberg put a stay on the county government’s ability to lease the land to Montgomery Soccer, Inc. That appeal will be decided early next year.
River Falls Civic Association President (and Brickyard Coalition member) Keith Williams said, “We want to go back to zero, want it to be an open, competitive process and one that engages the community to determine the best use of the land.”
The process should include the community and input from the planning board, Williams said.
“We find it strange and wrong that they’ve been locked out of this dispute completely,” he said.
The Montgomery Board of Education leased the land to Montgomery County, which planned in turn to lease the 20-acre property to Montgomery Soccer, Inc. Potomac residents argue that the development will swamp the neighborhood with cars visiting what they call a “commercial soccerplex,” and fundamentally change the nature of the area.
The new lawsuit drew heated criticism from the complaint’s defendants.
“A violation of intended use for educational purposes? What is a privately owned commercial farm for 30 years?” Montgomery County spokesman Patrick Lacefield asked Tuesday.
Among other complaints, the coalition is suing for relief from the county due to “the caused additional expenditure by the County Executive and BOE [to fund their side in the lawsuit] which will need to be funded from Plaintiffs’ taxes,” according to the complaint.
“They’re being an obstacle to this project, they caused the county to spend money to defend it ... It’s pretty ironic,” Lacefield said.
Montgomery Public Schools spokesman Dana Tofig said BOE officials had not yet seen the complaint.
“While the Board has not had the opportunity to review the complaint, the Board stands behind its actions, and regrets that it must expend additional resources to defend its legitimate authority with respect to its property. ... [We] will continue to affirm the right of the Board to determine the use of the land it owns,” he said in an email to The Gazette.
When contacted by The Gazette on Tuesday, MSI Executive Director Doug Schuessler said he hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit.
“Nothing the coalition does will surprise me,” he said. “Since the very beginning some of their leaders made it clear to us they will tie [this] up in courts as long as they possibly can. I guess they’re true to their word,” he said.
The lawsuit comes shortly after County Council President Roger Berliner, along with council members Phil Andrews, Marc Elrich, Valerie Ervin, Hans Riemer and George Leventhal, wrote to Leggett and to Shirley Brandman, president of the Board of Education, asking that the two organizations begin the leasing process over again.
“The way this matter has unfolded has been ugly and costly to everyone involved, including our County and the school system. We do not think this result is either necessary or inevitable,” Berliner said in a letter to Leggett and Brandman on Nov. 7.
When asked about the letter to Leggett, Lacefield responded, “No, no. We have no change in our attitude.”