Open Letter to Ike Leggett

AN OPEN LETTER TO COUNTY EXECUTIVE IKE LEGGETT
Re: Brickyard Rd. Middle School Site

Dear Mr. Leggett,

        It has been two months since the community first learned of your plans to lease the Brickyard Rd. Middle School site from MCPS and enter into a public/private partnership with an as yet undecided soccer organization to build soccer fields. We are now aware your office has been involved in discussion and planning with MSI for at least 2 years without the knowledge or input of the local community. The current leasee Nick Maravell,  neighbors of the site and relevant citizens associations learned of this plan just 3 business days before the School Board voted on the lease.

         A meeting held by your office on April 4th at the Potomac Elementary School drew over 200 people. Most expressed concerns over the lack of a transparent, inclusive process. At the time, no lease had been signed between MCPS and the County and the public was not allowed to see the proposed lease. Neighbors were assured there would be additional park like amenities besides the proposed soccer fields that  might include sharing the site with a scaled back organic farm . But when the lease was made public a few days after the April 4 meeting,  it designated only ball fields. It states "the County or its agents shall use the leased premises solely for ball fields and improvements associated with that use such as a parking lot and amenity facility."

        Now you have scheduled another public meeting on Thursday, June 9, presumably to seek input on the Request For Proposals (RFP). But the previous April 4th meeting brought the community no closer to inclusion in partnership plans and has led only to further exclusion as witnessed by language in the signed lease. The soccer fields will be private and only open to selected players.  No free access by Montgomery County school children and no access by the public.  The Brickyard fields will be reserved for the dues paying soccer organization members.  These fields will be built, managed and controlled by a private vendor.  There is nothing public about them. Why should we be part of a meeting clearly intended to deflect criticism without any possibility of dialogue?

        In our county, when a private developer proposes a land use change on a property of this size in an established residential community, they become subject to long standing policies established by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) that intended to engage citizens. At the earliest stage of  development review, MNCPPC advises the applicant to meet with appropriate community stakeholders and neighbors. That has not occured here. Plans were discussed only between the Executive, MCPS and with soccer organizations for 2 years before citizens know anything about it.

          The formal MNCPPC  process requires planners to review a development application for consistency with the adopted master plan. It  considers impacts on the environment,  examines the quality of intended design and compatibility with neighbors, as well as the availability and impact on public facilities such as water and sewer. It requires a study of traffic impacts.  Staff work with developers and  neighbors as well as relevant state and county agencies to address issues of concern throughout the process and well before sending any proposal to a public hearing before the Planning Board.  Citizen input is sought prior to and testimony taken at that hearing. Only then is a decision rendered by the Planning Commission. Voters have a right to expect our County government to abide by the same requirements we expect of the regulated building community through our planning process.

        In this case, a decision has already been made. An exclusive lease has been signed and a project is well underway before ever consulting the various stakeholders most effected by the proposal.  We have asked many questions and received few answers. Why is there no transparency here? What is the County getting out of this besides $200 a year above what the organic farmer now leasing the site is paying? The public deserves to know if the greater public benefit you assert really exists and more importantly, is it worth the price?  This school site is not being surplused by MCPS and is not being proposed for parkland as cited in the Potomac Master Plan. It is essentially being leased to a private developer for exclusive use as soccer fields.

        Mr. Leggett,  you have expressed an interest in meeting with representatives of the community but so far this outreach has gone unfulfilled. We ask the County representatives to follow through on this commitment, sit down with the signers of this letter and discuss in detail what the county’s plans are and see if we can turn this contentious decision into one of cooperation.  Hopefully our government will start performing in the manner that has made us proud to be citizens of Montgomery County.

Sincerely,

West Montgomery County Citizens Association (WMCCA)
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Civic Association of River Falls (CARF)
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Citizens for Transparency
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Montgomery Countryside Alliance (MCA)
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