A nearly decade-long battle over addresses turned a corner Thursday night for landowners along a gravel path in Sandy Spring known as Farm Road.
Montgomery County Planning Board agreed unanimously to assign addresses to 11 properties along the Farm Road after planning staff said there was enough evidence to support doing so.
The properties had lacked addresses, and without them, the plots had been rendered all but useless.
“Essentially, we are in a position where staff can, and the legal department can, recommend that the board approve staff’s issuance of addresses off of Brooke Road for all the properties on the southern end of [Farm Road],” planning department associate general counsel Carol Rubin said.
Properties on the northern part would have Chandlee Mill Road addresses, Rubin said.
Property owners said Farm Road appeared on county maps up until the approval of the neighboring Dellabrooke subdivision about 15 years ago.
The General Assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus intervened in June and set a Thursday deadline to make a decision on the addresses.
A review of titles, affidavits and other legal documents that surfaced this spring completed the puzzle to prove the owners have legal access to their land, Rubin said.
The board’s decision takes a significant step toward resolving the ongoing struggles of a predominantly African-American community to live on land passed down from their ancestors. Some of the properties have been in families for more than a century.
Owners have been denied for nearly a decade by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission for addresses. And others have had their once-assigned addresses crossed off planning department books, advocate Steve Kanstoroom said.
Kanstoroom said he has been fighting on behalf of the property owners ever since he learned that those responsible for wiping his house and barn from tax maps did the same to Farm Road with the approval of the neighboring Dellabrooke subdivision.
Unable to build on their land, the property owners have fought in and out of court for recognition of Farm Road and their legal right to use it to access their land.
“Good people have been damaged. Good people have had to jump through hoops not set up for other landowners,” attorney Michael Sklaire said on behalf of the property owners he represents.
No property owners spoke for themselves Thursday because as Sklaire said, they are tired of defending themselves.
The owners want more than just addresses, they want to enjoy their land “like every other property owner,” said Del. Aisha Braveboy, who chairs the caucus.
Addresses alone do not guarantee the owners will be able to build on their land as other permissions must be obtained, but an address is a key first step.
Braveboy (D-Dist. 25) of Mitchellville said the caucus is working with County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and the landowners to agree on the path for the Farm Road, which the county put in writing to accompany each owner’s deed. It is also working with the county to extend water and sewer to the land, and with the state to address environmental hurdles to building.
While significant progress for landowners, the board’s action Thursday does not officially recognize Farm Road as a public or private road nor does it resolve concerns that Dellabrooke was built using false or misleading documents. Bethesda attorney Douglas Bregman is conducting an investigation into Dellabrooke.
The board’s action could however speed resolution in pending litigation on the issue.