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No Photo Finish Here: Big Victory for Speech Rights in Silver Spring

In the continuing saga of a private developer's attempt to restrict freedom of speech in downtown Silver Spring, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett today delivered a powerful blow to those who would ban photography, political campaigning and other forms of speech on publicly-owned but privately-managed streets.

Leggett wrote to executives at The Peterson Companies and Foulger Pratt, the companies that built and control the $400 million downtown Silver Spring development, to make it clear that the county cannot stomach the developer's position in the controversy that exploded this summer after nearby resident Chip Py was prevented from taking pictures on what appears to be a public space.

"The county considers Ellsworth [Drive] to be a public forum permitting the free and unfettered exercise of First Amendment rights by residents of the county and its visitors to the same extent as those rights are exercisable by residents and visitors to the county on any public sidewalk or public street within the county," Leggett wrote.

He said that the agreements between MoCo and the developer that give the private entity the right to "promote the safety, security and economic success of the Downtown Silver Spring Project" and to close Ellsworth to vehicular--but not pedestrian--traffic at certain times "do not change the character of Ellsworth as a public forum, nor countenance violation of the First Amendment rights" of those who use the downtown.

Will Peterson take this fight to court? It hardly seems likely, given the company's recent attempts to curry favor with amateur photographers and other visitors to their development. The overall constitutional question of what constitutes a public space is far from resolved in the courts, but in Montgomery County, at least, the odds are that a strong statement from Leggett will go a long way toward reining in developers who got too big for their britches.

By Marc Fisher |  July 20, 2007; 4:10 PM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Good for Ike! He makes me glad I voted for him.

Posted by: Renee Feldman | July 20, 2007 9:26 PM

Good for Ike! He makes me glad I voted for him.

Posted by: Renee Feldman | July 20, 2007 9:26 PM

Does Peterson have any enclosed malls in the county built with public-private deals? That would be an interesting case, though I expct photographerst would not be happy with the lighting.

Posted by: Mike Licht | July 21, 2007 7:02 AM

Yay Ike!

Posted by: h3 | July 23, 2007 11:04 AM

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