Montgomery County failed to heed warnings of public outcry when it pushed forward the Brickyard Road soccer field project, according to documents released to the Brickyard Coalition after its members filed a Public Information Act request with the county.
Email messages between county officials and Montgomery County Public Schools indicate that the Montgomery County Board of Education was aware that the Potomac community would heavily oppose a decision to lease the land to the county for soccer fields, but that both parties went along with the lease agreement anyway.
A Feb. 3, 2011 message from Cynthia Brenneman, director of the county's real estate office in the Department of General Services, to DGS Director David Dise states that BOE was hesitant to sign a lease without having notified the public.
"I spoke with Mary Pat [Wilson, real estate management specialist with MCPS]. She doubts that the Board will sign a lease until there has been some kind of public notice process of our intent to do this project. [The Board is] concerned about public reaction and don't want to be caught in the middle… They also don't want to lose their tenant if something happens and our project doesn't go forward," Brenneman wrote.
In an email dated two weeks later, on Feb. 14, 2011, Brenneman reiterated the BOE's issue with public process to Dise.
"They [the school board] really do have a concern that we haven't notified the community yet. I think they believe the outcry will be so overwhelming that we won't proceed," Brenneman wrote.
Despite these concerns, the first record of public notice of the county's intentions for the land didn't come until March 2011, when the BOE informed Nick Maravell of Nick's Organic Farm that his lease to farm the land would not be renewed. Maravell had operated an organic farm on the Brickyard plot of land for 30 years. At the March 8, 2011 BOE meeting the board heard comments from the public and ultimately decided to sign a lease with the county.
The first public hearing on the Brickyard soccer field project wasn't held until April of 2011.
The Brickyard Coalition, made up of individuals and civic organizations opposing the county's decision to lease the land for soccer fields, submitted a Public Information Act request for the documents from the county and the BOE.
The coalition has repeatedly expressed concern with the county's public notification process in the Brickyard issue, and in 2011 the Maryland Open Meetings Law Compliance Board found that county residents were not made sufficiently aware of the proceedings. Maravell filed suit against the BOE in July 2011 claiming that the Open Meetings Act was violated and that the court should therefore reject the county’s claim on the land. Maravell settled with the BOE out of court before the case was to be heard.
MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig said, "the Board was acting upon a request from the county," when asked about the BOE's concerns with public process.
"I think the school board was pressured into [leasing the land] by the county, and I think these documents illustrate that," said coalition member Curt Uhre.
David Dise confirmed the emails to Patch on Wednesday.
According to Dise, the county wasn't ready to go to the community without first knowing if the project would come to fruition.
"We had no idea if the board would accept the lease or not. A decision was made not to get everyone excited until we knew where we were going." Dise told Patch. "We go to the public for projects with land that we control."
Had the county anticipated the public's outcry after the decision to lease the land was made, it might have acted differently, Dise said.
"I think that's obvious knowing the community's reaction to this, knowing what we know now. But you can't second guess yourself," he said.
When asked about community reaction and if the county had anticipated public outcry, county spokesman Patrick Lacefield responded to Patch in an email:
"We were and are pursuing the public interest to get more soccer fields for kids as per the Potomac master plan. I understand that some folks don't want soccer fields or previously affordable housing on 20 acres of a commercial farm. They want nothing in their back yard. That however is not in keeping with the master plan or the public interest. As a Potomac resident myself I know that plenty of folks favor more fields for kids."