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M-NCPPC Accused of Witholding Public Records in "Farm Road" Dispute

7:02 AM, May 25, 2013   |    comments
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  • SANDY SPRING, Md. (WUSA9) -- There are new accusations that for 6 years the region's most powerful land use agency has been intentionally hiding public documents that could turn the tide in favor of an historic African American community in Montgomery County that's fighting to restore their property values.

    The small enclave of families are continue to battle the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission which mysteriously erased the community's historic road and addresses off official maps.  Some landowners complain the move nearly wiped out their property values.

    It's a 7-year David vs. Goliath fight, that the taxpaying property owners refuse to give up on.

    "There's something they don't want us to know about.  There's something they don't want anyone to know about," alleges 72-year-old William Rounds who owns two parcels along what's historically known as "Farm Road".

    "Absolutely, they have something to hide," adds community activist Steve Kanstoroom, who's website SaveSandySpring.org is dedicated to helping the landowners.

    Kanstoroom made the first public information act request in 2008 and claims M-NCPPC has refused to give up its public records.

    "The documents they refuse to turn over - it directly undercuts them," Kanstoroom says.  "They cant turn over the documents or their case falls apart."

    Farm Road was eliminated from official maps when M-NCPPC approved a nearby subdivision which was built in 2002.

    With that one decision, descendants of African American families that settled the area more than a century ago complain they lost their financial nest eggs represented by their property values along with the road.  

    Planning officials now refuse to give owners like Mr. Rounds an address, which means he can't build on his own land.

    Rounds believes its a strategy to force African-American landowners out to make room for more development.

    "Why not?  They got the power," he says.

    Since 2008, Kanstroroom has made 2 demands for public documents from M-NCPPC under the Maryland Public Information Act.

    In one case he claims he received a letter back, with no documents attached.

    In the second case, he says he got no response at all.

    The commission's alleged failure to comply is an apparent violation of the law, according to Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich.

    "It's just wrong," Elrich said.

    Elrich has complained in writing to M-NCPPC Chair Francoise Carrier and asked her to put an end to the Farm Road dispute.

    In an interview with WUSA9 Elrich said: "There are only two reasons you don't give up stuff.  Either it doesn't exist and you've made statements or claims based on something that doesn't exist or something exists and it contradicts your position." 

    SaveSandySpring.org features a recording of Kanstoroom and Rounds attempting to video a map while visiting M-NCPPC headquarters and being asked to stop.  The maps appears to show Farm Road before the development and what seem to be deleted addresses.

    The map is one document Kanstoroom claims M-NCPPC has failed to provide after his Public Information Act requests.

    And since Farm road families are denied addresses, Kanstoroom asked for documents explaining the rules.

    However, agency interim director Rose Krasnow claimed in court testimony:  "There are no rules" and "They're not written, but I would argue that they're not just in my head."

    Elrich says he is disturbed by the circumstances.

    "I can't picture what anyone has to hide, other than your hiding that you made a mistake. And if you're hiding a mistake that's pathetic," he told WUSA9.

    Krasnow and Carrier declined to be interviewed in person by WUSA9 saying they need more time to consider Elrich's letter.

    But time and patience are two things the taxpaying property owners along Farm Road say they have run out of.

     

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