This story was corrected on Aug. 1, 2012. An explanation of the correction follows the story.
Potomac residents are swallowing the results of a state school board opinion released last week, which upheld the Montgomery school board’s decision to build soccer fields on top of an organic farm on Brickyard Road.
The Maryland State Board of Education ruled July 24 that the Montgomery County Board of Education was in line with the law last year when approving a proposal to lease the 20 acres it owns to the county for soccer fields.
In less than three weeks, Nick’s Organic Farm will move out. Nick Maravell, who ran the farm for more than 30 years, was allowed to stay on the property until Aug. 15, although his lease expired in January.
Soon, Montgomery Soccer Inc. will move in. This past spring, the county approved the company’s bid to build, maintain and manage the fields, according to county Spokesman Patrick Lacefield.
Among other opinions, the state board wrote that because the county board ensured in the proposal that the school system could, with two years notice, take back the land to use as school property, the use was reasonable.
The Brickyard Coalition, a group of Potomac residents that has been fighting the soccer fields since the idea was first placed on the school board agenda in March 2011, thinks the opinion did not adequately recognize its complaints.
“In our way of thinking, the opinion completely ignores the plain language of the statute when stating that so long as the local board has the ability to take the land back immediately, they can lease it to anyone they want,” said Keith Williams, spokesman for the Brickyard Coalition. “To extend that logic, local board could use unused school property to build a prison.”
Schools spokesman Dana Tofig said the school system is pleased with the opinion.
“The primary concern of the Board of Education has been and continues to be that the site is available to us should we need it for the school use,” he said.
After placing the item on its March 8 consent agenda, the school board approved the proposal for the fields that day.
Concerned with the loss of a treasured organic farm, as well as the traffic and other troubles it thinks the soccer fields will bring, the coalition thought the public should have had more say in the process.
The Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board agreed the school board should have involved the public more. The compliance board ruled last year that the school board violated provisions of the Open Meetings Act when approving the new lease agreement with the county.
But it is time that the public land go to public use, Lacefield said. Despite the fact Montgomery Soccer is a private company, the fields will be used for the public, he said.
Lacefield said the residents of Brickyard Road wouldn’t be happy with any use of the land.
“Mother Teresa could be putting a hospital there and they would be objecting to that,” Lacefield said.
Williams said that claim is wrong — residents would not be opposed to the land being used as they see it to be outlined to be used in state Education Articles, for educational and agricultural purposes and, in special circumstances, for a daycare.
Williams said the coalition is unsure if they will appeal the state board’s decision; they will continue to fight, though.
He said an opportunity will arise for the residents to have a say when the county takes its plans to Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, although the county is not required to make any changes at that point.
While the county is eager to get park and planning’s comments, the comments are merely advisory, not required, Lacefield said.
A quote from Patrick Lacefield was corrected to say “objecting” rather than “objected.”