POTOMAC– The rolling green hills of Potomac seemingly never end, but Montgomery County officials believe the area is still missing some greenery: soccer fields. They’ve decided to build them on a 20-acre plot of land that a local farmer has leased for the last 30 years.
Nick Maravell tends to an organic seed farm along Brickyard Road in Potomac. He’s leased the land from Montgomery County Public Schools since 1980. But he found out last March that his lease wasn’t going to be renewed. The news came as a shock. “I really don’t know what’s up. I’m not sure how to explain it. I was sort of dumbfounded,” he said.
He also owns another larger farm, but farm on Brickyard Road represents about 20% of his income, he said.
The school system said it could take back the land for the purposes of building a school. The 2002 Potomac Master Plan said the site, and others, could be “evaluated for their potential to serve unmet recreational needs.” The Public School System sold the land to the county earlier this year.
The county argued there is a major need for soccer fields in the county saying there are over 25,000 soccer players and there aren’t enough fields.
Maravell, who lives in a lot adjoining the farm, believes soccer fields have no place at the site. “It’s really not appropriate for a sports venue: the size, the parking arteries, the nature of the residential community. It just doesn’t fit.”
But county spokesman Patrick Lacefield said the county is simply fulfilling the provisions of the 2002 Potomac Master Plan. “It should be used for recreational use, so that is our intention: to meet the desperate needs of soccer players in the county,” he said.
Maravell has taken the issue to court. Marvell filed a lawsuit, along with 32 others, claiming the decision to sell the lease back to the County lacked transparency. “The school board violated the [state] open meetings act by meeting in secret when they were not authorized to meet in secret on this issue,” he said.
The filing in Montgomery County Circuit Court looks for a declaratory judgment, and an injunction to stop the lease between the school system and the county. There is also an administrative appeal before the Montgomery County Board of Education, according to Maravell’s attorney, James L. Parsons, Jr.
The county said it can’t comment on the ongoing case, but Lacefield said the land should be used for the public’s benefit. “We’ve gotten a lot of support from the county. I live in Potomac and I know we have a lot of support for the usage in part because it’s using for public usage, instead of a commercial, for profit public farm,” he said.
Montgomery County officials say the soccer fields will be used in a public-private partnership with a private company maintaining the fields. The county said it has not yet decided which company it will partner with, but one company that is interested is MSI. Executive Director Doug Schuessler said his goal is to improve the county. “We’re looking to make an amazing gift to the community,” he said. MSI is a non-profit youth soccer organization that has about 14,000 soccer players. Schuessler said the site is the best answer for the county’s soccer field problem.