- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2001

Nenad and Vesna Mirkovic paid $252,500 in June 2000 for the lot at 7522 Oldchester Road in Bethesda. Lush with green grass and tall poplar trees, the one-third acre lot, which had been owned by the county, seemed perfect for the home the couple planned for themselves, their two children and Mrs. Mirkovic's mother.
Almost 14 months later, the Mirkovics are still waiting — their dreams of a new home put on hold after their would-be neighbors convinced a Montgomery County judge that the Mirkovics' lot should remain — as it had been since 1961 — green space for the residents of English Village, an upscale Bethesda subdivision.
When residents of the neighborhood heard the lot had been sold, they successfully sought a court injunction, preventing any construction on the site until a judge could hear their arguments about what they consider the county's illegal disposal of the property.
The case is scheduled to go before a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge on Sept. 24. Until then, the Mirkovics wait and hope.
"I am prevented from doing absolutely anything on the property," Mr. Mirkovic said. "I can't cut shrubs, trees, absolutely nothing."
Longtime residents say the county had no right to sell the lot, which they call Maiden Lane Park. For four decades, they say, residents used the space to jog, ride bicycles, walk dogs and gather to chat.
"It used to be well-kept by the county," said John Philips, who lives nearby at 5909 Maiden Lane. There was even a sidewalk that went across the lot that students used as a shortcut to Walt Whitman High School. On Saturdays, some walk through the lot to get to a nearby synagogue.
"We have friends on the other side," Andrea Kraus said recently as she walked her two dogs, a boxer and a French bulldog. She and her husband have lived at 7701 Oldchester Road, across the street from the lot, for eight years.
The neighborhood went into action 14 months ago after one resident walking through noticed a man tying red ribbons around trees, marking them to be cut to make room for the Mirkovics' home.
Residents said the site had been known as a park since 1961, when the sidewalk was built.
Members of the community formed the Committee for the Preservation of Maiden Lane Park.
"Within three days, we had lawyers and a restraining order," Mrs. Kraus said.
Residents were asked to pitch in $1,000 — or whatever they could spare — to cover the attorneys' fees.
Mrs. Kraus said they have held garage sales, hosted a cocktail party, solicited donations door to door and even passed the hat on the lot, stopping residents and informing them of the situation.
Betty Petrides of 7578 Oldchester Road, the leader of the neighborhood committee said, "We became involved because there are several statutes on the books that require a public hearing and the County Council to do an abandonment on the property before it can be sold."
The Property Acquisitions office of the Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation sold the property to the Mirkovics. Gayle Libby Curtis, chief of property acquisitions, said, "Because this matter is in litigation, I cannot talk to you about it."
Mrs. Petrides said because the lot is considered a right of way, the County Council should have been involved in the process. Residents of the neighborhood also should have received letters of notification about the sale but didn't, she said.
Mrs. Petrides said the neighborhood committee hopes the September trial determines that the proper legal process was not followed. In that case, the sale would be negated and the county would have to go through the proper process to sell the property, she said.
Mr. Mirkovic, who works in the restaurant business, is paying $2,000 monthly for the mortgage and taxes. He said the property fight has been a drain, but he is still determined to build his house.
"I can definitely see that there is anger on their side, and there have been statements that we are not welcome in the neighborhood," he said.
Mr. Mirkovic said he suspects his ethnicity — he is Slavic — might be behind some of the opposition his family has faced. He and his wife moved to the United States from Yugoslavia 14 years ago. "As individuals, and maybe because of our foreign background, I think we could have been discriminated against," Mr. Mirkovic said.
Mrs. Kraus' response: "So ridiculous."
"First of all, we didn't know what nationality he was, we just knew he bought the property," she said.
Mrs. Kraus said people of many different nationalities live in the neighborhood and it is not an issue.
Montgomery County Council member Howard T. Dennis said the battle shows how important parks are to a community.
"It shows you how precious green space within the Beltway is."

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