Kinship Community In Sandy Spring Continues Fight For Property Rights (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Kinship Community In Sandy Spring Continues Fight For Property Rights

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
So a few months ago on the show we visited the Kinship community of Sandy Spring, just east of Olney, in Montgomery County, Md. Kinship communities were settled by freed slaves after the Civil War and you'll find a bunch of their descendants still living in these communities today. Now, today's show is all about law and order and, in the case of Sandy Spring, some residents of this rural area have been tangled up in quite the legal dispute for quite awhile.

MR. WILLIAM ROUNDS

00:00:28
From here on over is my property. I've got two parcels.

SHEIR

00:00:34
How long have you had this property?

ROUNDS

00:00:37
Well, it's been in my family since 1904.

SHEIR

00:00:40
This is William P. Rounds.

ROUNDS

00:00:41
Well, I'll be 72 years old August 16.

SHEIR

00:00:44
And since 2006, he and his neighbors have been in litigation against the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Under dispute is this very property we're walking on. And why? It doesn't have an address.

SHEIR

00:00:58
So you just don't have an address?

ROUNDS

00:01:00
Had one. It's gone now. I have no idea why they would give me an address and then take it away.

SHEIR

00:01:09
Okay. Just to back up a bit, as Michael Sklaire, an attorney representing William Rounds, tells it, the whole Sandy Spring kerfuffle began back in the 1990s.

MR. MICHAEL SKLAIRE

00:01:18
In the mid-90s, some developments were created nearby. And during the time of the development, the surveys wiped out the main road that accessed these properties. There was a road called Farm Road that these folks used to get to and from town.

SHEIR

00:01:37
But now the county was saying Farm Road didn't exist and if your property isn't on what the county deems a public road, then you can't have an address. And if Rounds and his neighbors don't have addresses...

SKLAIRE

00:01:49
They can't build on the land, they can't get services, they can't get emergency services, they can't do anything with the property that they're paying taxes on.

SHEIR

00:01:57
Can they sell it?

SKLAIRE

00:01:58
Obviously, the property is not worth much. If you can't build on it, it's hard to sell it.

SHEIR

00:02:05
But when these residents approached the Park and Planning Commission, which oversees property in the county...

SKLAIRE

00:02:09
They were denied addresses because the road no longer existed.

SHEIR

00:02:13
So, okay, to be honest, when I visited William Rounds' property, we definitely walked on a road. I mean, it was kind of a challenge, since it was covered with fallen trees and leaves and rocks and stuff like that, but there was a road. And if you look at the original property deeds of Rounds and his neighbors, you will see a Farm Road listed. But if you ask a lawyer on the other side of this dispute...

MR. ADRIAN GARDNER

00:02:34
My name is Adrian Gardner. I'm the general counsel of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

SHEIR

00:02:40
...he'll tell you those original property deeds simply aren't sufficient.

GARDNER

00:02:43
Ancient deeds make references to property descriptions in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it's to a rock. Sometimes it's to an apple tree.

SHEIR

00:02:52
In other words, says Gardner, these references describe where property lines are supposed to exist.

GARDNER

00:02:57
But that doesn't establish who actually is entitled to use a right-of-way.

SHEIR

00:03:03
Meaning, who can access a route, be it a path or a track or a road.

GARDNER

00:03:07
Because the reality is, it is just not legally clear how all of these individuals have access to a public road.

SHEIR

00:03:17
The case has bounced around a lot through the years. Now it's pending before Maryland's court of special appeals. And one of William Rounds' neighbors is especially eager to see the litigation draw to a close.

SHEIR

00:03:28
What is your name?

MR. ROBERT AWKARD

00:03:29
My name is Robert Awkard.

SHEIR

00:03:31
How old are you?

AWKARD

00:03:32
Ninety.

SHEIR

00:03:33
When I met Robert Awkard, he walked slowly, talked slowly and was breathing with help from an oxygen tank.

SHEIR

00:03:39
So how long has your family been using the Farm Road?

AWKARD

00:03:44
Ever since I was a small. I was two years old when I went round there with my grandmother and grandfather.

SHEIR

00:03:52
And that road, he says, is the only right-of-way his family had.

AWKARD

00:03:56
We would ride back and forth out the road to Sandy Spring Mill, the mill to grind feed and all of that. So I know the road has been there.

SHEIR

00:04:08
So, no wonder he feels so strongly about getting Park and Planning to acknowledge Farm Road. Not only has the land there been an important part of his life...

AWKARD

00:04:15
But you pay taxes on it and you don't have no say about it. You can't do what you want with it. And it just don't make sense.

SHEIR

00:04:25
Not long after I chatted with Robert Awkard, I was told his health took a turn for the worse and he wound up in the hospital. But when we met, in spite of his physical frailty, he really did seem hopeful.

AWKARD

00:04:38
I know I probably won't live to see it, but I hope somewhere down the line it'll be straightened out.

SHEIR

00:04:45
And when I followed up with attorney Adrian Gardner earlier this week, he said he hopes that the line Awkard mentioned won't be too long.

GARDNER

00:04:54
Our commission, the Park and Planning Commission, we're very sincere about the fact of trying to see if we can get through the details that would resolve this without further litigation.

SHEIR

00:05:06
Standing on his property in Sandy Spring, William Rounds' says he believes resolving the dispute shouldn't be all that complicated.

ROUNDS

00:05:13
All they gotta do is give us what we deserve and what we have paid for all these years, over 100 years. I got to accept what was on my paperwork, not someone else's. but I will accept my own. It was written in 1904.

SHEIR

00:05:31
And 109 years later, Rounds says he isn't giving up any time soon. Because for him, his land is his legacy, address or no address.

SHEIR

00:06:00
Time for a break, but when we get back, why people with autism are more likely to come in contact with law enforcement.

MR. SCOTT CAMPBELL

00:06:07
I've been starting my presentations with asking for a show of hands of how many people have dealt with somebody with autism before. Nowadays, it's usually at least 25 percent of the audience.

SHEIR

00:06:17
That and more in just a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5

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00:06:22
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