Local: Education

Residents sue Montgomery County, school board over proposed soccer fields

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Photo - A sign reads "Save Brickyard" on the side of the road. Nicks Organic Farm, on Brickyard Lane, is owned by the county school system, The farm is scheduled to be redeveloped as a soccer complex. (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
A sign reads "Save Brickyard" on the side of the road. Nicks Organic Farm, on Brickyard Lane, is owned by the county school system, The farm is scheduled to be redeveloped as a soccer complex. (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Local,Maryland,Education,Kate Jacobson

The Brickyard Coalition -- a privately funded community group -- said the county is violating a law the prohibits using land that was part of a school district for other purposes, coalition member Keith Williams said. The suit listed Leggett, the county, the board of education and Montgomery Soccer Inc. as defendants.

The land currently is home to an organic farm that has been at the school for 30 years and is the intended site for the privately owned MSI soccer fields. Coalition members claim that allowing a private company to develop on the land is in violation of its intended usage for educational purposes, and they believe the county violated the public trust by allowing the transaction. The group also accuses Leggett of unlawfully conspiring with the board to deliver the land to MSI.

"We don't want to file more lawsuits; we're taxpayers, as well," said Curt Uhre, a member of the coalition. "But when you come down to having no other choice to move forward on that front, you have to move forward how you need to."

Montgomery County Public Schools Spokesman Dana Tofig said in an email that the school has received notification that a suit is coming and is reviewing it but declined to comment further.

Multiple calls to Leggett on Tuesday were not returned.

The group is already battling the Montgomery County Board of Education in court for leasing the property to the county, claiming the board acted unjustly and violated the open meetings act when it made its decision to lease the land.

So far, school officials have spent at least $200,000 in litigation against the group. In October, the coalition offered to drop the suit if the county would give back the land to the board at no cost, and if it agreed future use for the site would be determined by an "open process with citizen comment."

Several County Council members back the citizens group. In a letter to Leggett and board President Shirley Brandman, signed by County Council President Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda, and council members Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring, Marc Elrich, D-at large, and Hans Riemer, D-at large, the council members suggested finding another site for the fields to be built.

In a separate letter released last week, George Leventhal, D-at large, said both parties should step back and re-examine the "potential harm and irreversible damage" the fields might cause.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kate Jacobson

Montgomery County reporter
The Washington Examiner