Lengthy Brickyard battle nearing a resolution -- Gazette.Net



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After months of lawsuits and acrimony, with hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on legal fees in a messy land battle, peace reigns in Potomac — for now.

Court cases in a land battle over the site of a former farm on Brickyard Road are being dropped and school board officials are working to create a more transparent process for leasing its vacant land.

On Feb. 19, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett abandoned his effort to convert the Brickyard Road site into soccer fields. The county subsequently surrendered its lease with Montgomery County Public Schools on the 20-acre site.That led to Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Robert Greenberg dismissing a court case between Nick Maravell, Montgomery County, and the county’s Board of Education, which was appealing a stay on the lease of the land.

Maravell and his co-complainants had argued that the lease of the land from the school system to the county had been illegal and lacked proper public input.

Now, those who opposed the development of soccer fields on the property are in the process of dismissing a second suit, which had been scheduled to be heard in January of next year, said Curt Uhre, a member of the Brickyard Coalition, an opposition group.

“They had given us everything we had asked for,” he said.

He said that the lawyers who had been involved in that case were working on a stipulation to dismiss the case, which they would probably be filing by the end of the week.

State lawmakers had urged Leggett to end his efforts to turn the site into soccer fields.

The 20-acre Brickyard site is one of 13 vacant sites owned by the school board that have been set aside for future schools.

What will become of the land now hasn’t been determined.

Nick Maravell has indicated he would maintain the land until the board specifies a future use for the land. His daughter, Sophia, is hoping to run an educational farm on the land once the process to determine a use for it is reopened.

“My clients are respectfully requesting that the future use of the Brickyard site be decided through an open and competitive process,” James Parsons, who represents Maravell, said in a Feb. 25 letter to the school board.

“We further support the requests that the board has received from numerous elected officials that the board consider an agricultural/environmental educational use for the property,” the letter said.

Before any new use is considered for the land, Montgomery County Board of Education Vice President Philip Kauffman (At-large) of Olney said he wants to make sure the school board sets procedures for how to use vacant land.

At the school board’s next meeting — on March 12 — Kauffman will introduce a resolution asking the board’s policy committee to review procedures for use of future school sites.

The school board will vote on the issue at the meeting.

“As a result of the Brickyard case, the community has indicated that we really do need an open and transparent process for how these situations should be handled,” Kauffman said.

There is no policy that currently addresses these procedures, he said.

The policy committee should look into procedures to determine the fair market value of land, competitive bidding, local zoning on properties, and appropriate revisions to reclaim land for school use if needed, Kauffman said.

If the school board creates a policy for this issue, people are less likely to challenge decisions that it makes, he said, adding that school board members he has talked to believe it is a good idea.

Board member Patricia O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda has said that the most important thing is making sure the sites eventually are available for school use, given how quickly the school system is growing.

About 10,000 more children are set to attend county public schools by the 2018-19 school year, according to school system projections.

The Brickyard site could help relieve future overcrowding in the Winston Churchill cluster. It has been marked for a middle school, but plans to build a new school are not included in the school system’s six-year capital improvement program list.

jbondeson@gazette.net

sjbsmith@gazette.net