Several property owners in a Sandy Spring community are questioning a new report clearing Montgomery County park and planning staff of improper behavior in approving a subdivision, and are calling for a federal investigation.
The issue centers around the approval process for the Dellabrooke subdivision near Brooke Road in Sandy Spring.
Several property owners in a largely black community in the area claimed that planners for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission refused to recognize a gravel farm road that provided their homes with access to Brooke Road and had refused to issue them addresses for their properties.
The planning board agreed in July to assign addresses to 11 properties along the farm road after staff said there was enough evidence to support doing so.
In a series of lawsuits, the property owners claimed that planning staff conspired with developers and others to conceal the existence of the farm road by removing it from maps, deeds and other planning documents because it interfered with plans for the Dellabrooke subdivision.
The report by Douglas M. Bregman, a principal at the Bethesda law firm of Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday, found no proof of improper conduct by planning staff related to the Dellabrooke approval or the approval of a conservation easement related to the project.
Maps by the U.S. Geological Survey from 1908 and 1923 show a road that goes across the property from Brooke Road to Gold Mine Road through the general area where the development would later go, according to the report.
But a Geological Survey map from 1944 and subsequent maps reportedly don’t show such a road.
Steve Kanstoroom, an advocate for the owners of several properties affected by the dispute, was skeptical of Bregman’s report.
“The Commission’s report created by its contract attorney is neither independent nor does anything to assist the Farm Road community [in] regaining its stolen property rights,” Kanstoroom wrote in a statement to The Gazette. “The Commission’s relentless efforts to rewrite history and deny the irrefutable facts, all at taxpayer expense, constitute a further reckless use of taxpayer funds.”
Judy Penny, whose family owns property along the farm road, wrote in a statement that she wasn’t convinced by Bregman’s report.
“Mr. Bregman and the Commission’s attempts to persuade the public that it was conducting an independent investigation will not survive scrutiny. The truth will eventually come out, despite the Commission and its crony’s best efforts to hide it,” Penny wrote.
The planning commission has refused to turn over documents that Bregman was basing his report on, she said.
“Consequently, the community now intends to prevail upon high ranking officials to seek US Attorney General [Eric] Holder’s help,” she wrote. “It also intends to avail itself of other methods of bringing Maryland’s dirty secrets flowing from the Commission into the national spotlight.”
Francoise Carrier, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Planning Board, said Bregman’s investigation was thorough and “did not leave a stone unturned” in looking into the situation.
“To my mind, it fully answers the questions that were raised,” she said.
The commission responded to a records request from Penny and told her it wouldn’t be providing documents as they were provided to Bregman to avoid compromising privileged information that was part of the investigation, she said.
The documents are being scanned electronically and should soon be available online, Carrier said.
Meanwhile, the county has been working with the property owners to try to determine a route for a road leading through the community that meets everyone’s satisfaction, she said.