State Board of Ed Says Appeals about Move on Brickyard Site Can Go Forward
Legal Process Proceeding To Prevent Development of Farm
Sept. 9, 2011, Potomac, MD—The Maryland State Board of Education says 32 of the residents who appealed a recent county school board decision to lease the Brickyard Road schools site to Montgomery County have the legal status to protest the move. For more than 30 years, Nick’s Organic Farm has farmed this land organically, but the new lease paves the way for a private soccer organization to develop pay-for-play soccer fields there instead.
The Aug. 30 opinion of the State Board is significant because the Montgomery County school board had previously argued (in “motions to dismiss”) that the people who appealed the Brickyard Road move were not in a position to do so, either because their appeals were late (“untimely”) or because they weren’t really affected by the decision (lacked “standing”). As a result, the appellants responded to the motions and awaited this response. Now the case can proceed in the upcoming months, with a decision on the merits of the case possibly being taken Oct. 25, when the State Board meets.
The attempt to switch from the farm to a private soccer development on the leased school land has come under fire for many reasons. Amid a lack of transparency and failed public process, including Open Meetings Act violations, county residents had no say over whether to turn a 31-year old organic seed farm, the only one in the county, into more soccer fields and parking lots. There was no public discussion about the pros and cons of food production versus ball fields, or the benefits to kids, the general public and the local economy of an organic seed farm versus a pay-for-play soccer development. Despite the growing outrage among the citizenry, school board and county officials continue to ramrod plans to develop the land for sports, dismissing a well-supported alternative vision for an ag education hub for kids and the public at the site.
“Thousands of county residents support the vision for agricultural education at this schools site, where I happen to run the only organic seed farm in the county,” says Nick Maravell, operator of Nick’s Organic Farm. “We would love to keep sharing the knowledge gained during more than 30 years of organic farming with schoolchildren and the community, while supplying regional organic farms with their critical organic seed stock and supporting the agricultural economy,” he says. “Here’s a great chance to show how this kind of small plot on the urban-fringe can play a special role by producing GMO-free seed and growing food close to urban consumers.”
Overall, the state board received 41 separate appeals of the matter but two subsequently withdrew from the case, according to the opinion. Of the remaining 39, the local board argued that 7 should be dismissed for untimely filing and the other 32 for lack of standing.
The state board did dismiss the 7 appellants who filed late appeals, as they were not able to demonstrate any “extraordinary circumstances,” such as fraud, that could excuse the late filing.
However, the state board found that the remaining 32 could proceed with their appeal. “As to the remaining appellants, because we found that they satisfy the standing requirements, and because the State Board is the appropriate forum for review, this case may proceed on the merits,” according to the legal opinion of the state board.
Appellants needed to show some “injury or harm different from a generalized interest in the subject matter of the case,” the document notes. “The fact that the remaining Appellants own land either adjoining or in close proximity to the Brickyard Road Site leads to the inescapable conclusion that these land owners would suffer an injury in fact different from the public generally. We find, therefore, that the remaining Appellants have standing to bring this appeal.”
This decision came the same week as other legal steps were taken that pave the way for further legal action. Nick’s Organic Farm, Nick Maravell, and his wife Victoria Cowles, filed notice Aug. 29 with Montgomery County that the County’s actions pertaining to the Brickyard Road school site caused them injury. Citizens groups and 400 individuals known as the Brickyard Coalition made a similar move Aug. 30.
The Brickyard Road School Site is owned by the Board of Education of Montgomery County. From March of 1980 to March 2011, it was leased to Nick’s Organic Farm, where Nick Maravell farmed it organically. In March 3 of this year, with less than three weeks before the end of the lease, the BOE said it would vote on March 8 (2.5 business days’ notice) to turn the lease over to the County, while the County announced it would develop soccer fields on the site in a public-private partnership. On April 19, the School Board signed a lease with the County turning it over to the County, except the school board retains the right to terminate the lease if the land is needed for school purposes. The school board required the County to extend Maravell’s lease until the end of 2011 to complete his farming season.
Nick’s Organic Farm LLC (www.nicksorganicfarm.com) has certified organic operations in Potomac and Buckeystown, MD, producing row crops, grass-based livestock, vegetables, seed, and animal feeds. Farming organically since 1979, Nick Maravell, its owner, is nationally recognized and has been called on to testify at federal and state levels. He has been active in national and state development of organic legislation and standards, organic research priorities, and organic marketing issues. Late last year, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack appointed Maravell to serve on the National Organic Standards Board, a panel of unpaid experts established by Congress to set organic industry policy.
All content on the website of Nick’s Organic Farm is original and the property of Nick’s Organic Farm, unless otherwise indicated.