Soccer Parents: We Need the Playing Fields at Brickyard, Not Organic Farm
“We have thousands of kids competing for fields in this county,” booster parent says.
Parents say the soccer fields proposed by the Brickyard Soccer Field Project are long overdue.
For nearly two years, the Brickyard Road Middle School site in the heart of Potomac has been embroiled in a heated battle between Montgomery County’s mission to turn the site into youth soccer fields, and local activists’ desire to save a 32-year-old organic farm. The most vocal of the fight’s participants have opposed the county’s plan, but soccer parents are starting to speak up.
"I really feel that the bottom line is that the people in Potomac—and many of my friends live there—they don't want the traffic, they don't want the hassle. But it's really not about that small group in Potomac. It has to be about what's best for the county," said Laurie Lane, a Clarksburg parent with three children who have played soccer in Montgomery County.
Since at least 2009, Montgomery County has planned to develop soccer fields at the site. It was originally set aside for a school, but for more than 30 years has been leased by the county school board to a farmer who grows organic crops. Opponents of the soccer fields say the county hasn't been forthcoming about the plans, and some, including Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), support the existing farm as an asset to Montgomery County residents and public school children. Supporters of the soccer fields say the county needs more playing fields.
Demand for fields exceeding supply
There are a total of 400 ball field sites in Montgomery County with at least one ball field each, according to Ginny Gong, executive director of the county’s Community Use of Public Facilities Office. In fiscal 2012, CUPF issued 4,508 permits for county ball fields, amounting to 188,384 hours of use. Only half of last year’s permit applicants were actually given space, Gong said.
“The demand for field time exceeds the number of available fields in several areas of the county, but especially in areas such as Potomac, Bethesda and Rockville," Gong said. "Potomac/Bethesda are probably two of our highest demand areas.”
Permits are issued on a historical basis—organizations that have previously used certain fields usually have first dibs on those fields during the next permitting season. Priority is given first to Montgomery County Public Schools and PTAs, followed by county or city recreation departments. Permits are next issued to league organizations and then individual teams or community users.
“Each year the leagues get bigger, but we don't have an increase in the number of fields from year-to-year to accommodate the increase in league participation,” Gong said. “My staff tell me every field that can be booked is pretty much booked. The only reason it may not be booked is because it's being taken offline for maintenance.”
The process for getting field permits is long and arduous, said Lane, who has worked as an administrator for the Potomac Soccer Club and is a booster parent for Clarksburg High School. That’s especially true for newly formed teams that can’t depend on historical usage of a field to save them a spot.
"You've got coaches and managers and kids who have paid for their uniforms and they need a place to practice," Lane said. “It's about providing the people in your community a place to go. If you've got little kids who are trying to play soccer or T-ball, they're not going to want to drive two hours in traffic around here to do that—they want to go around the corner.”
Daniel Hayden, a Potomac parent with two children in soccer programs, said he’s no stranger to long commutes for soccer practice.
“Our family adds considerably to congestion,” Hayden said. “The home field for our child in the Bethesda Soccer Club is in Muldoon’s Farm in Beallsville, which is 17 miles from Potomac. And the home field for our child in the Potomac Soccer Club in Germantown is 13 miles from Potomac.”
Hayden said he thinks Montgomery County could have better handled the public process of leasing the Brickyard site from MCPS and avoiding controversy, but that the end result is good.
Shock, accusations and lawsuits
The Brickyard Soccer Field Project was an unwelcome shock to some in Potomac. Civic groups, including the West Montgomery County Citizens Association and the Brickyard Coalition, said that the plan resulted from backroom deals. Opponents accused Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) of skirting public process and making backroom deals with Montgomery Soccer, Inc., the group contracted to build and manage the soccer fields. Leggett firmly denies the allegations.
A state board found Montgomery County in violation of open government mandates multiple times throughout the controversy. County officials discussed plans for the soccer fields as far back as 2009, with closed meeting discussions continuing through 2010, The Gazette reported.
In emails from February 2011, an official in the county’s real estate office wrote that the school board was aware that the Potomac community would heavily oppose a decision to lease the land to the county for soccer fields and urged the county to begin the public notification process as quickly as possible. Still, on March 8, 2011, the school board heard comments from the public before ultimately deciding to sign a lease with the county.
The Maryland Open Meetings Law Compliance Board found in July 2011 that Montgomery County residents were not made sufficiently aware of the proceedings. In July 2012, three citizens' groups fighting to keep the organic farm from being turned into soccer fields won a lawsuit in which they said the county failed to turn over public documents related to the controversy. Circuit Court Judge Ronald Rubin ordered the county to repeat a search and make public documents available.
Plans for the ball fields are on hold as a judge decides whether the school board acted within its rights to lease the land to Montgomery County. The case is an appeal of an earlier Maryland State Board of Education decision supporting the county board’s lease with Montgomery County. Judge Robert Greenburg heard motions from both sides in county Circuit Court in Rockville on Friday, but has not yet ruled how the case should proceed.
The county’s behavior in the controversy should not cloud the needs of county residents, Lane said.
“We want all of our county officials to be up front with the way they do business, but the land is still county land," she said. “I believe [Leggett] was trying to act in the best interests of the majority and not the minority.
“We have thousands of kids competing for fields in this county.”