Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008

Residents take battle to the streets

Sandy Spring property owners want elected officials to be more responsive to cries for help

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Charles E. Shoemaker
Protest_O012308_B Charles E. Shoemaker/The Gazette 01/21/08 Doug Gansler (center) listens to Sandy Spring residents outside of his house Monday morning during a protest. ** Sandy Spring residents protest the countyıs decision to make a farm road in Sandy Spring non-existent. They will ride a bus through the county making various stops such as Doug Ganslerıs Bethesda home.**
More than a dozen Sandy Spring residents and property owners used Martin Luther King Jr. Day to protest at the homes of state and county officials who they say are not responding to their cries for help getting a local road recognized by the county.

‘‘I think we got our message across and we just wanted to make them more aware of what was happening in our neighborhood,” said William Rounds, a Gaithersburg resident who owns property on the road in question, Farm Road.

The gravel road, which residents say is more than 100 years old, once connected their properties, but it doesn’t appear on plans for the neighboring Dellabrooke subdivision of million-dollar homes that the Planning Board approved in 1998.

‘‘We reviewed Dellabrooke consistent with the way we’ve reviewed any other subdivision application and the ‘Farm Road’ issue never arose at that time,” said Valerie Berton, planning department spokeswoman. ‘‘We didn’t even know it existed.”

Rounds said he was refused an address for property he owns on Farm Road where two dwellings once stood.

But Park and Planning officials said they cannot issue addresses to properties that do not have access to a public road for emergency responders, Berton said.

The group traveled across the county in a school bus with a flatbed trailing behind them that held a large banner that read, ‘‘Since you won’t let us live on our properties, we thought perhaps we could live on yours.”

Under the sign was a setup of the interior of an old home, including a bed, a table surrounded by chairs, a kettle and an outhouse.

‘‘I believe all of them understood what was going on, but we thought something would be looked into by this time, so we decided to carry it to them personally,” Rounds said.

Michele Awkard of Sandy Spring wants to build a house on her family’s property on Farm Road for her, her fiancé Sheldon Carter and their five children.

‘‘I still have a dream that one day I will be able to live on the property that has been in my family for generations,” Awkard told the crowd of protesters and onlookers. ‘‘I have a dream that one day the politicians will work to protect the rights of the people who elect them, instead of working to protect their rich and powerful donors.”

The demonstrators were not well received at some homes, however.

County Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park was upset that they protested at his home and does not believe the County Council has jurisdiction over the matter.

‘‘I’m highly offended they would come to my home,” Leventhal said. ‘‘They’re stirring up a lot of activity. I have sympathy for the landowners in Sandy Spring and I’d be happy to meet with them, but it’s a dispute over old land records and that’s something you have to resolve in court.”

Leventhal accused Steve Kanstoroom of Ashton, a volunteer advocate for the Farm Road property owners, of creating the issue for his own gain by wanting to devalue the Farm Road property so he can purchase it for his own.

‘‘He acts like a great advocate for justice, but he’s just trying to gain control of his next-door neighbor’s land,” Leventhal said Monday evening. ‘‘He’s a litigious, volatile, sensationalistic individual, who makes claims and charges against elected officials and Park and Planning with no basis whatsoever.”

Kanstoroom denies such accusations.

‘‘There is nothing further from the truth,” Kanstoroom said, citing an e-mail from the county’s inspector general, Thomas J. Dagley, to Councilwoman Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton, Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson and the county’s Chief Administrative Officer Timothy Firestine, which calls for an independent investigation into alleged improper conduct by the county’s Department of Permitting Services and Park and Planning employees.

‘‘[The e-mail] speaks to the legitimacy to what I was bringing to him,” Kanstoroom said. ‘‘I understand George’s position, but it’s just the opposite. That’s not what the inspector general has to say.”

The demonstration took all of the elected officials by surprise as the protestors kept their targets a secret until they arrived at each home.

In addition to Leventhal, the group rallied in front of the homes of Hanson, Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D), Secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation Thomas E. Perez, and Rose G. Krasnow, county development review chief.

Krasnow said she was not home, but her husband was and he called the police. No one was arrested.

‘‘I’m extremely disappointed,” Krasnow said Monday evening. ‘‘All I can tell you is that I have strictly been following the laws as written. I don’t understand why they’re coming after me.

‘‘I’m convinced that if people stop all the histrionics ...,” Krasnow said, pausing for a second. ‘‘This isn’t the way to go about it.”

Hanson was also not home when the demonstrators arrived, but was upset and agreed with Leventhal that the issue has to be resolved in court.

‘‘They have been heard, but as I understand it, there has not been an agreement with what they want done,” Hanson said Monday evening. ‘‘There’s a difference between not being heard and not being able to do anything about it.

‘‘The merits of the issue should be addressed in court,” Hanson added. ‘‘The use of people to make unfounded and outrageous claims probably needs to be addressed in terms of the public shame of it.”

Not everyone was upset. Gansler walked outside his home, listened to the speeches and spoke to the residents about the issue, but contended that it is not within his jurisdiction.

‘‘This isn’t a state issue, it’s a county issue,” Gansler said.

‘‘It’s a problem in the county I live in and it’s good to be aware of the issue,” he added. ‘‘I’m sure the county government will address the issue.”

Hanson said he believes the actions Park and Planning have taken were ‘‘appropriate and proper.”

‘‘We can do what we always do, deal with the issue on merits rather than street theater,” he said. ‘‘I’m not a drama critic.”