Hundreds turn out to weigh in on soccer field proposal in Potomac
Montgomery County wants youth fields on organic farm on Brickyard Road in Potomac
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Minutes after they were told soccer fields would inevitably replace an organic farm in Potomac, advocates made plans to continue to fight the decision.
"Every revolt has to start somewhere, and I say we start it on this 20 acres," Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, told the crowd gathered on the school steps after Monday's public meeting at Potomac Elementary School.
Hoefner, of Takoma Park, was one of 200 residents and agricultural leaders who attended the two-hour meeting to ask Montgomery County officials to think twice before ousting an organic seed farmer from the land to allow for construction of youth soccer fields. Those gathered after the meeting vowed to continue to coordinate their efforts in appealing to the county, the school board, and politicians from Montgomery County all the way to the White House, which also has an organic garden.
On March 8, the school board voted to lease a 20-acre property on Brickyard Road to Montgomery County, which intends to work with a private organization to develop youth soccer fields. Potomac farmer Nick Maravell has leased the land behind his house from the school system for 31 years. He will be allowed to remain on the property until Jan. 1.
The county has held firm with its intentions, despite a grassroots movement of residents, civic groups, and farming and agricultural leaders expressing opposition to the lease transfer, and dismay over the lack of public process.
Many of those who attended Monday's meeting wore green and held signs that read "No soccer station with out representation" and "Save family farms," as county officials wrote comments on a pad on an easel.
Two people spoke in favor of the soccer field development, including Doug Schuessler, executive director of MSI Soccer, who said the number of fields needs to grow with the number children wanting to play soccer.
"The reality is that we have far too few fields," Schuessler said. "We overuse the ones we have to death."
Schuessler said the 7,000 Potomac and Bethesda children playing soccer with MSI often travel to Germantown or Clarksburg to play.
"That's traffic on the roads, that's family time on the roads," Schuessler said.
Mimi Segal, 57, of North Potomac, has a 13-year-old daughter who plays soccer with MSI, but said she values the rarity of Maravell's farm over having another soccer field.
"We have enough soccer fields, we don't have enough organic farms" Segal said. "My child has become interested in farming because of Nick."
Department of General Services Director David Dise said that options for the design of the soccer fields include allowing part of the property to remain in agricultural use. Because much of Monday's meeting was about concerns over the process, he said another meeting would be scheduled for community input on the site plan.
Attendees circulated copies of a letter signed by 14 state and local organizations urging County Executive Isiah Leggett to allow Maravell's farm to continue operation and allow for educational activities.
County Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac and George Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park wrote to Leggett urging a compromise that would allow Maravell to continue his farm while allowing soccer field construction.
Maravell said Leggett visited him Sunday, which left him hopeful that a compromise could be reached as he explores options to continue farming.
"I've never been a quitter and a farmer doesn't just walk away from his land," Maravell said. "That's half my life out there."