This story was updated and corrected at 9 a.m. Feb. 20, 2013. On Feb. 19, a photo caption was corrected. An explanation follows.
County Executive Isiah Leggett has abandoned efforts to convert the Brickyard Road site into soccer fields — a move that has led to the county surrendering its lease with Montgomery County Public Schools for the 20-acre site.
In a closed-door session Tuesday night, members of the Montgomery County Board of Education met with their attorney and then voted unanimously in open session to cancel the lease. Board member Michael Durso was absent from the meeting, according to schools spokesman Dana Tofig. The property remains a future school site, according to a statement from the school system.
The county had been seeking a deal with Montgomery Soccer Inc. to turn the parcel into soccer fields.
The land has been leased by the Maravell family for 30 years and they operated it as an organic and educational farm.
Leggett issued a statement Tuesday night stating he believes public land should be used for public purposes.
“Montgomery County families need more soccer fields, especially Down County,” he wrote. “I will continue my support for finding other options to expand ballfields in the County and to uphold the public interest of Montgomery families.”
In his statement, Leggett did not reveal the reasons for the timing of the decision. Spokesman Patrick L. Lacefield said there would be no other comment than the written statement.
Hours before the school board’s session, Montgomery County Public Schools security workers installed locks on the gates to the Brickyard property.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Board of Education President Christopher S. Barclay said that he could not give any details regarding the meeting or why it was called last minute.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, Nick Maravell, owner of Nick’s Organic Farm, noticed school security workers putting locks on the gates at the Brickyard Road and eastern entrances to the property.
The property belongs to the Montgomery County Board of Education and Maravell has no right to be on the property, Tofig told The Gazette.
Security and maintenance personnel went to the property to do an inspection Tuesday and found locks on the gates, Tofig said.
“Our staff removed the locks, inspected the property and put on our own locks,” Tofig said.
Sophia Maravell, director of the Brickyard Educational Farm, said they did not have locks on the entrances, only a U bolt holding the Brickyard gate closed. She said the county workers told them the locks were installed so no unauthorized users could trespass onto the property.
Nick Maravell was sent a letter on Aug. 17 stating he could access the property only to harvest existing crops, and on Sept. 21, he was told that he and all of his equipment needed to be off the property by the end of December, Tofig said.
Tuesday Nick Maravell was ordered to remove several pieces of farming equipment from the property.
The 20-acre land has been the subject of a tug-of-war between the school board and Montgomery County who have plans to lease the county-owned land to a private soccer club for use as soccer fields and Maravell and supporters of the organic farm.
Supporters of the farm claim in court that the property lease was conducted illegally without proper public input.
The legality of the lease is being challenged in court before Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Robert Greenberg, who is expected to release his opinion next month.
“This is a complete surprise to us because the judge has not ruled on the merits of the original lease from the school board to the county,” said Carissa Lovelace, campaign director for Save This Soil.
Save This Soil is a citizen campaign established by Marylanders seeking to preserve the organic farm that has been safeguarding the 20-acre plot of school land along Brickyard Road in Potomac, according to their website.
Sophia Maravell said she was hopeful that the board called the Tuesday meeting to reconsider their decision to “bulldoze” the land.
“I do have a lot of hope,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be any reason for them to not consider using the land for outdoor education.”
Sophia Maravell said she was optimistic that her family and the school board could mend their relationship.
“We would love to sit down at the table and restart and get a really solid working relationship with the school board, in order for this to be a win-win for MCPS school children and help fulfill environmental literacy standards.”
Montgomery County senators and delegates wrote the school board and Superintendent Joshua P. Starr on Feb. 8 to ask them to reconsider their plans for the land.
“The proposed Brickyard Road Educational Farm presents an invaluable and unique opportunity to educate the next generation about agriculture and sustainability,” the letter from the Maryland House of Delegates reads.
The letter stated that the educational farm would better meet the needs of the community and its residents.
Seven out of eight Montgomery County senators and 20 out of 24 Montgomery County delegates signed the letter to Starr in support of the Brickyard Educational Farm.
Correction: The school board met in closed session, however the board voted in open session to cancel the lease. Also, Nick Maravell was originally incorrectly identified in the photo cutline.