SANDY SPRING, Md. (WUSA9) -- A recently revealed email chain between regional and state land use officials at the highest levels is being criticized by a Montgomery County Councilmember as "totally inappropriate."
"He went over the head of people who had made professional opinions and went to somebody at the highest level and said 'fix this for me'", said Councilmember Marc Elrich.
"That's not something you do in public. That's backroom," he said.
Elrich made his comments after reviewing newly revealed 2007 emails between the office of Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission general counsel Adrian Gardner and Richard Hall, the O'Malley administration's cabinet secretary in charge of the Maryland Department of Planning.
The emails were sent after landowners fighting to restore an historic right-of-way on a disputed road through a traditional African American enclave in Sandy Spring had won a critical victory. Landowner William Rounds had spent months convincing state officials to "correct" the official maps of the area to restore the road.
But the contact between high officials resulted in an order to reverse the correction in less than two hours.
M-NCPPC general counsel Adrian Gardner said he couldn't remember having a personal conversation with MDP Secretary Richard Hall, but he defended the high level contact between the agencies because the map correction threatened to upset pending lawsuits against the commission.
"It would have been inappropriate to not let the Maryland Department of Planning know about a pending lawsuit that involved their decisions," Gardner said. "I think the taxpayers expect us to work together which is precisely what we did."
Concilmember Elrich fired back: "You don't render decisions on whether roads exist or don't exist based on whether an agency wants you to protect them from people suing them over mistakes they made. Adrian shouldn't have made the call. But frankly, the agency should have told him to take a walk."
The disputed driveway historically known as 'Farm Road' was erased from official maps in 2000 after the M-NCPPC approved theplat for the nearby Dellabrooke subdivision. The result has been that mostly elderly landowners like Rounds cannot build or sell, because there is no legal right-of-way to access their properties.
Many landowners are the descendants of freed slaves who settled the area before the Civil War, and have had properties in their families for more than a century.
"It's a monumental injustice," said Steve Kanstoroom, the neighborhood activist who first exposed the emails by publishing them on his website savesandyspring.org.