SANDY SPRING, Md. (WUSA9) -- An investigation at the region's largest land planning agency will be launched in the wake of WUSA9 reports on allegations of possible wrongdoing in the approval of a development in Sandy Spring, Maryland, that resulted in the removal of an historic access road from state tax maps.
Since the change, landowners in a largely African-American enclave of family properties say their land values have been destroyed because M-NCPPC will not grant them addresses or building permits, rendering their properties useless. They have been fighting for 7 years for a solution to the so-called "Farm Road" dispute.
"We have decided to get an outside independent investigator," said Francoise Carrier, Chair of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in an interview with WUSA9. Later Monday she met with Sandy Spring landowners to make the same promise.
At a meeting at the Sandy Spring Slave Museum Monday night, Carrier also promised the landowners to immediately write a letter to the Maryland Department of Planning to ask the agency to consider adopting corrections to its tax maps that could restore the road and the landowners right to use it.
A previous correction had been reversed by the agency after state planning secretary Richard Hall was contacted directly by M-NCPPC's general counsel Adrian Gardner in an episode that Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich called "backroom dealing."
WUSA9 uncovered a 2008 sworn affidavit by a former Montgomery county legislative aide alleging that intentionally misleading documents may have been submitted to gain development approval for the nearby Dellabrooke Woods subdivision built in 2002. The former aide, Adrienne Gude said in an interview with WUSA9 that she believed M-NCPPC staffers knew about the omission of the disputed road because it appears on agency maps, but they let the change happen anyway.
The affidavit was dismissed from an unsuccessful lawsuit.
In late May, former Montgomery County Inspector General Thomas J. Dagley renewed questions when he said previous law enforcement investigations into the Farm Road issue and other similar cases were "shut down" for "partisan" reasons. Dagley would not elaborate when asked to be interviewed by WUSA9. Dagley made his new allegations in a letter to the organizer of SaveSandySpring.org, which is assisting the property owners.
Citing a history of lawsuits over the road, M-NCPPC officials continue to call the "Farm Road" matter a "dispute between neighbors."
It's a characterization that Councilmember Elrich calls "laughable".
"There was no problem here until M-NCPPC created the problem," Elrich said. "All they've got to do is look at it and say 'big mess, shouldn't have happened, we're going to straighten it out'. And the fact that they can't bring themselves to do that just amazes me."
Adding to the confusion, WUSA9 discovered at least one property owner who has a current address on the disputed road, even though the road has been wiped from tax maps for years. Mike Plummer collects his mail from a box at the end of Farm Road where it intersects with Brooke Road, even though he gets to his house over an easement to another county road nearly a half mile away. Carrier and M-NCPPC acting director Rose Krasnow said they were unaware of Plummer's address.
The officials also said they were unaware that the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection investigated the suspicious sale of an easement to property owner William Rounds and advised Rounds not to pay back a loan he was given to buy the easement. Rounds refused to pay in 2008, and the note holder has made no attempt to foreclose. The individual refused to accept FedEx'ed communications from Montgomery County Consumer Protection investigators, according to director Eric Friedman.
Frustrated that the Farm Road issue was blocking his plans to build, Rounds purchased the easement in hopes of selling his property, but is now left with an additional cloud over his land title.