Residents question public process after Potomac farm lease transfer
County promises to allow input on soccer field development, advertise better
The day after a school board decision to replace a 20-acre Potomac farm with soccer fields, residents asked county officials to explain why they were unaware of the transfer days before it was finalized.
The school board voted March 8 to lease their property on Brickyard Road to Montgomery County, which intends to work with a private organization to develop soccer fields. For 31 years, Potomac farmer Nick Maravell has leased the land from the school system to run an organic seed farm behind his house. He will be allowed to remain on the property until Jan. 1.
The county will lease the property annually for $1,500 $200 more than Maravell paid while the school board will be able to reclaim the property if it wants to use the land to build a school.
Maravell said he will farm until January, but has not made long-term plans. Because his home also borders the property, he said he will stay involved in community discussions about the site's future.
"My hope is that the community leaders and the elected officials will be able to find a win-win situation out of this and meet the high levels of expectations that we have for Montgomery County," Maravell said Tuesday.
At a March 9 meeting, Department of General Services Director David Dise said that the transfer was not well-advertised and vowed that residents will be consulted as the county continues to move forward with plans to create soccer fields.
Dise made the statement at the March 9 West Montgomery County Citizen's Association meeting, which was described to The Gazette as a community meeting by county spokesman Patrick K. Lacefield. The citizen's association President Ginny Barnes said she was upset the group was not notified or asked if its meeting could be used by the county for public comment.
Dise said that future legal notices on county projects will be advertised in The Gazette where residents are more likely to see it, rather than in the Montgomery Sentinel as the Brickyard lease proposal was advertised in November. The Sentinel has a circulation of 5,000, according to its 2010 company profile. The Gazette's circulation in Montgomery County is 254,000, according to Jean Casey, The Gazette's circulation/marketing director.
The promise came too late for some residents who wanted an opportunity to give feedback before the school board voted.
"I really lose faith. I really lose faith in the whole system," said Maria Fusco, who owns a home that borders the farm.
Dise said at the meeting in the Potomac Community Recreation Center that the county was not responsible to hold public meetings about land it had not yet leased.
Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, said he would seek input on the project from civic groups so the county can best advertise the project to private bidders.
Hartman said Tuesday that no meetings were planned yet, but he will be contacting local groups in the next few days to arrange them.
Nick's Organic Farm grows organic seed stock that Maravell sells to farmers, his wife Tory Cowles said.
The loss of the land is an even greater loss to the food community because Maravell has served as much as a steward for a diversity of organic seeds than as a businessman, she said.
"He has been collecting soy beans from all over the world," Cowles said. "And some of these seeds are no longer available anywhere else."
Maravell opened a 165-acre certified organic farm in Buckeystown in 1997 that has livestock, grain, corn, soybeans and hay.
Because his Potomac farm is isolated, Maravell does not have to worry about cross-contamination drifting in the wind from other non-organic farms, county agricultural services manager Jeremy Criss said in a March 7 interview.
"If he would relocate, he'd have to start all over for the certification for organic farming," Criss said.
The Brickyard property would be the second time the county sought a public-private partnership to create soccer fields. The county expects to conclude negotiations this month with an organization to build soccer fields behind the Potomac Community Recreation Center.