Montgomery County School Board Makes Surprise Move To Turn Organic Farm on Brickyard Road Into Ball Fields
MSI Soccer Organization Discussed Plans Back in 2010
Potomac, MD, March 7, 2011—With only five days notice, theMontgomery County School Board released documents Thursday showing it plans an important vote this Tuesday, March 8, which would turn land that has been farmed organically for 31 years into a ball field operation, developed through a public-private partnership. While the farmer who has been working the land remained in the dark, the MSI youth soccer organization apparently already heard about it in November.
“Giving the public almost no time to debate the plan to build ball fields here is not right for our community,” says Nick Maravell, owner of Nick’s Organic Farm and farmer of the land for more than three decades. “The fact that MSI knew enough about this plan to discuss submitting RFPs for it at their board meeting in November, when the community and county council remained in the dark, is wrong. I would expect that our county officials at the highest levels would find this situation unacceptable and call for a delay in any action until an open and transparent process can be achieved, as Councilmen Berliner and Leventhal have already done.”
“This project would have very serious effects on the community in many far-reaching ways. Problems relating to traffic, parking, noise, trash, water pollution, and light pollution have not been fully considered. Questions about land use and food security haven’t been properly reviewed. The lack of transparency in this process and the apparent failure to respond to voters’ needs and desires are very disturbing,” he says. “Also, this site is unique for organic seed production, because it is miles away from any conventional crops that could contaminate the fields with GMO pollen,” Maravell says.
According to planning documents, the board would grant a 10-year lease to the county, allowing the county to work with a private athletic organization to construct ball fields on land at 8615 Brickyard Road that has been leased to Maravell for organic crops for more than 30 years. The Board of Education would grant a ten year land lease to the county—but could recover the land if needed for a school. After receiving the land lease, the county would then work with a private athletic organization in a public-private partnership to construct ball fields.
Only this past Thursday did this information become public, when agenda documents were posted. The same day, Maravell, whose home borders the site from Horseshoe Lane and has been farming the land for the past 31 years, found out about the move. Although the lease was set to expire on the 20-acre field, no warning had been given indicating it would not be renewed.
At its board meeting Nov. 16 last year, MSI discussed field development, mentioning “Brickyard” as one of five possible places “to develop new soccer fields,” according to minutes of the meeting.
This plan to construct ball fields at the Brickyard site circumvents the interests and the will of many in the local tax-paying community. During the Potomac Master Plan discussions, the community proposed that “local parks with ball fields” might be developed as an alternative to the construction of a school at the location. This latest iteration of “ball fields,” however, is not in the spirit of the community’s proposal, because the community discussions had centered on the idea of park land, perhaps with a ball field as an accessory, and there was no consideration of how private involvement would influence the development of the site.
This site is unique for organic seed production, because it is miles from conventional farms whose corn and soybean fields could contaminate seed crops with their insect-borne and airborne genetically engineered (GMO) pollen. Nick’s Organic Farm maintains heirloom and hard-to-find organic seeds, and some of this genetic diversity could be lost. As a certified organic farmer, Maravell is not permitted to use, or sell as organic, GMO seed. There are fewer and fewer sites which are so isolated from the GMOs that can potentially contaminate organic fields.
While some have suggested the southern part of Montgomery County could use more ball fields, no data has been presented supporting this position. Furthermore, there is no basis to argue the Potomac area needs more ball fields.
The county would not necessarily have control over the use of the fields, even if they were built, since it will be operated by a private athletic organization which could rent it to groups from other areas, such as DC or Northern VA. Any private entity would need to generate substantial revenue that would pay back the expenses incurred to construct the ball field complex, perhaps requiring lights at night.
Fears that the proposal may not turn out well for the community are supported by the experience of a community in Fairfax County, VA, where the development of a public-private sports complex turned into a nightmare for people in the McLean area—albeit one in which they ultimately prevailed after a lawsuit.
Access roads, bathrooms, traffic control, trash removal and emergency services also need to be addressed and paid-for, potentially by the county.
The private partner in the potential partnership has not been named, so the community has no clear understanding of the potential development.
Whether using natural or artificial turf, extensive parking lots and ball fields at the site would contribute to the problems of run-off so common in urban and suburban locations, rather than help to ameliorate the problem, as does organic farm land.
A farm is not portable, and organic farm land can’t be brought back without great effort and many years. Once this land is paved over and/or fertilized and/or covered in artificial turf (some of which has been very controversial and implicated in lead contamination according to the Centers for Disease Control), it is not easy to bring back. At a time when the need for urban agriculture is increasingly being recognized worldwide, eliminating this organic treasure seems short-sighted and self-defeating.
All content on the website of Nick’s Organic Farm is original and the property of Nick’s Organic Farm, unless otherwise indicated.