SANDY SPRING, Md. (WUSA9) -- Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett is calling on the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission to "take another look" at a long-festering road dispute in Sandy Spring that has left some African-American property owners claiming their historic family parcels are worthless.
"We need to resolve this," Leggett told an audience Friday night, which included many of the elderly landowners affected by the disputed driveway known as Farm Road. "Six years is too long."
Leggett spoke at an event where he gave neighborhood activist Steve Kanstoroom one of the county's highest community service honors.
Kanstoroom has assembled new affidavits from six families affected by the road dispute promising not to sue if the M-NCPPC reverses a 13-year old development approval that officially wiped the road off maps.
He also recently exposed a 2007 e-mail chain that appears to show M-NCPPC's top lawyer working directly with Maryland Secretary of Planning Richard Hall to reverse a correction to the department's maps that would have favored the landowners.
The documents are posted on Kanstoroom's website SaveSandySpring.org.
Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich called the emails evidence of "backroom" dealing at the highest levels of government against property owners who can't afford lawyers to fight back.
M-NCPPC general counsel Adrian Gardner has responded that it was his responsibility to notify the state of potentially adverse pending litigation if the map correction stood.
Farm Road was eliminated from planning maps when the Dellabrooke subdivision was approved by M-NCPPC in 2000, despite the road's presence of state tax maps for nearly a century, and references to it in numerous deeds.
The result has been that property owners are stuck with parcels that have no address, are ineligible for building permits, and are difficult to sell.
"My land is worthless," complains 71-year old property owner William Rounds, who calls the land use process he is fighting "rigged".
Rounds is among the landowners who are descended from freed slaves who originally settled in the area more than a century ago.
"My family and I have been paying taxes for a hundred and some years," Rounds told WUSA9. "Of course its outrageous."
In the wake of WUSA9's reporting, Leggett said the M-NCPPC "might want to take a second look" at the issue now that Kanstoroom has assembled the new affidavits.
In a written statement Gardner said: "...we are eager to resolve this issue without further litigation, and we hope that the property owners will achieve full agreement soon." But the M-NCPPC lawyer cautioned that the new affidavits "...do not speak for everyone interested in the area, so a dispute apparently remains."
The M-NCPPC controls a conservation easement on property divided by the disputed road.
Gardner noted that property owner's claims about the road have been repeatedly rejected in courts since 2006.
The full text of Gardner's statement is as follows:
Statement to WUSA-9
Adrian R. Gardner
Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
William Rounds et al. v. Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission et al.
This case presents a dispute among some property owners near Sandy Spring who have sued their neighbors - along with our agency - to obtain access to a public street (Brooke Road).
The law in Montgomery County requires that each piece of property have undisputed access to a public street before our agency can properly assign a street address. This legal requirement is essential to support the efforts of local police and fire responders in an emergency.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs have claimed that an historical "farm road" gives them access to Brooke Road, even though it allegedly cuts through properties owned by Ms. Audrey D. Hill and Mr. Milton Johnson, among others. They also claimed the farm road cuts through a forest preserved by a conservation easement held by our agency.
The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission wants to help residents achieve their land use goals. However, we cannot assign addresses if street access is not available or in dispute among those who would share that access.
Claims seeking farm road access have been litigated in four separate state and federal court cases spanning almost a decade - none of which have succeeded. More importantly, those lawsuits have done nothing to resolve the problem or build the necessary consensus among all the necessary stakeholders. Rather, the repeated lawsuits have worked like a hammer when the screwdriver - called "reasoned negotiation" - would have worked quite nicely.
A number of affidavits submitted about two weeks ago by several property owners do not speak for everyone interested in the area, so a dispute apparently remains.
Nevertheless, we are eager to resolve this issue without further litigation, and we hope that the property owners will achieve full agreement soon. We also look forward to getting beyond this dispute and returning to our mission of enhancing the quality of life for the taxpayers of Montgomery County.