Potomac residents oppose plan turning organic farm into soccer fields

Twenty acres of public land have become hot property in Potomac.

County Executive Ike Leggett has been trying to turn it into soccer fields.

But residents say the decision making has happened behind closed doors.

This week, the county requested new proposals for the land.

Potomac residents packed a hearing space to slam county officials and at times people were yelling.

“It is a stain on the reputation of Montgomery County and every elected official in this county who stands by and doesn't fight, fight, fight to stop this,” says Dennis Kelleher, a resident.

Their anger stems from a proposal by Leggett to turn an organic farm, on public land, into soccer fields.

But more than the plan, they say, a lack of transparency has really ticked them off.

“We need spine in these offices and there was no spine,” Jill Phillips says.

In November 2009, Leggett asked the board of education to lease the land to the county.

But the public didn't find out until 16 months later, just days before the lease got authorized.

Residents say it was too little information, too late.

“There is no clear and open process here,” says John Phillips. “I live right next to the farm”

But the county executive says he told the community as soon as he got control of the land and that he has engaged residents ever since.

“We've had a number of community meetings that have had hundreds of residents,” says Patrick Lacefield, a spokesperson for Leggett. “We've gotten a lot of great input.”

Residents still suspect Leggett has already made his decision.

And their suspicions only grew when at this week's hearing, Councilmember Roger Berliner said he was told that Leggett had made a commitment on the deal, and wouldn't budge.

Berliner wouldn't go into detail with ABC7.

Asked what commitment the county executive had made, Lacefield says, “I don't know anything about that.”

Lacefield says the county has approached this case like every other land deal and transparency is not the real issue here.

“My suspicion is that the problem isn't really with the process at all,” Lacefield says. “The problem is with the substance. In other words, they're folks who don't want something in their backyard.”

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