Two state lawmakers whose letters convinced Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) to back out of a Brickyard Road lease apparently were not on the same page.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh and Del. C. William Frick led separate pleas to preserve the organic farms that operated on the site, but with different approaches.
“I was not trying to twist Ike Leggett’s arm,” Frosh said.“The last thing I was trying to do was force him to do anything. I was just voicing my opinion, along with that of my colleagues.”
However, Frick acknowledged that he was looking for the county to back away from possibly leasing the Brickyard site to Montgomery Soccer Inc.
“I definitely was looking for the outcome that it produced,” Frick said.
Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase and Frick (D-Dist. 16) Bethesda drafted separate, nonidentical letters to Superintendent Joshua P. Starr and Board of Education members, dated Feb. 8, urging the education leaders to keep farms operated by Nick Maravell and his daughter Sophia Maravell on the land.
Leggett has said the letters influenced his decision.
Frosh said he was unaware the letters tipped the scales, prompting Leggett to abandon the deal with Montgomery Soccer to build soccer fields on the land where the Maravells had operated an organic farm for 30 years and, more recently, an educational farm.
Frosh’s letter was signed by all but one Montgomery County state senator, Sen. Nancy King (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village. King did not sign on to the letter, she said, because as a former school board member, she saw their side of the story.
“He [Nick Maravell] paid almost nothing to use that land, and it belongs to the school system,” King said. “It’s theirs to do something with if they want to.”
Frick’s letter was signed by all but four county delegates — Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg, Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Dist. 18) of Chevy Chase, Sam Arora (D-Dist. 19) of Silver Spring and Charles E. Barkley (D-Dist. 39) of Germantown.
Frick said he was unaware that his Senate colleague wrote a similar letter.
While the letters were written on official General Assembly letterhead, both were orchestrated by the Brickyard Educational Farm, founded by Sophia Maravell, which operated on the Brickyard Road site.
Carissa Lovelace, who spoke for the farm, said she and Maravell were the driving force behind the letters.
“It was months and months of work,” she said. “We set up individual meetings with every Montgomery senator and delegate.”
A member of each chamber offered to each draft a letter.
“And they did, then we went back around and got signatures,” Lovelace said.
While the push might have come from the Educational Farm, both Frosh and Frick stand by what they wrote.
“I think it would be a lost opportunity,” Frick said of losing the organic farm and the educational farm from the 20-acre site, owned by the Montgomery County Board of Education. “This is a great chance to preserve a rare, pristine agricultural territory in this part of the state.”
Noting how difficult it would be to move an organic farm to a different plot of land, Frosh said Nick’s Organic Farm and Brickyard Educational Farm were, in his opinion, the highest and best uses for the land.
But currently, the 20-acre plot sits vacant, waiting for the Board of Education to review its procedures for the use of future school sites. The Brickyard Road plot has been marked as the future site of a middle school, but plans to build a new school on the site are not included in the school system’s six-year capital improvement program list.
Both Frosh and Frick say there is little they can do at this point if the school board chooses a different use for the land, and pulling the board’s purse strings from Annapolis is not a viable option.
“You wouldn’t withhold their budget over it,” Frick said. “You wouldn’t want to punish the students of the county over something like this.”
Frosh said as state officials, they have no authority to influence what happens with the land.
“It’s a county issue, I’m a state official,” he said. “I’m a little uncomfortable meddling in county decisions.”
However, Frosh said he got involved by writing the letter because he felt important environmental issues were at stake and because his personal familiarity with Nick Maravell’s situation gave him something to add to the debate.
The Brickyard site has been the subject of a tug of war between the Maravell family, the county and the Montgomery County Board of Education.
Staff Writer Holly Nunn contributed to this report.