List details properties at risk of condemnation for Purple Line


Myman Ugo Onyejiaka has concerns about where the Purple Line will be built, since he found out Jan. 25 that part of the route could remove a large chunk of his small front yard in Riverdale. (Marvin Joseph/WASHINGTON POST)
January 25, 2012

Myman Onyejiaka has owned his Riverdale home for eight years, but he only learned Wednesday that Maryland transit planners are eyeing part of his front yard and driveway to make room for a light-rail line.

“No one has told me anything about that,” Onyejiaka said in the basement office of his home tax-preparation business, where he scanned a list from the Maryland Transit Administration. Onyejiaka’s address is on a 13-page spreadsheet listing properties in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties being considered for condemnation, in whole or in part, to build the proposed 16-mile Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton.

Onyejiaka’s address is listed as a potential “partial” condemnation, which means his red brick house would be left standing. He is all for improving public transit, he said, but losing even a strip from his shallow front yard would leave Kenilworth Avenue almost at his front door.

“The house would be right on the street,” Onyejiaka said. “That would be terrible. . . . The noise would be too much.”

The list, which The Washington Post obtained through a public information request, provides the first detailed look at properties that state transit planners say might be needed to build two tracks for light rail trains along local streets. The spreadsheet lists about 500 parcels, including about 170 that would be condemned temporarily during construction before being restored and returned to the owner, said Henry Kay, head of project development for the Maryland Transit Administration.

The other parcels would be condemned permanently, including 31 homes and 43 businesses, according to the state’s most recent projections.

Kay said most property owners haven’t been notified officially because the list is not final.

Most of the properties are in Silver Spring and to the east, toward New Carrollton. They include parts of front yards along Wayne Avenue east of downtown Silver Spring and homes, businesses and land along University Boulevard in Hyattsville and along Kenilworth Avenue and Riverdale Road (Route 410) through the Riverdale area.

The effects would be greater in Silver Spring and eastward because the proposed transit line wasn’t included in long-term development plans until recently, providing little preserved right of way. For years, Montgomery’s master plan called only for a single-track trolley between Bethesda and Silver Spring, along a former freight rail right of way that became the Georgetown Branch walking and cycling trail.

In Riverdale, where a light- rail line wasn’t envisioned until 2001, many residents and business owners said they have long suspected their homes, yards or businesses were in its path.

At La Flor de Puebla Bakery, where customers buy fresh Mexican rolls and pastries beneath hanging star-shaped pinatas, Mario Hernandez said he is pretty sure his family business would lose its parking lot along Kenilworth Avenue. He is not sure about the building. The MTA list shows 5 percent of an acre being considered for condemnation at the bakery’s address.

Hernandez said his month-to-month lease would allow him to move if necessary, and he thinks a light-rail line would ultimately bring more customers. But he is concerned that the bakery would not survive several years of disruptive construction out front.

“We’re worried,” Hernandez said, “but we’re waiting to see what happens.”

Maryland transit planners emphasized that the list is preliminary and could change as more detailed engineering is done over the next year. According to the state, construction would not begin until 2015 at the earliest, and that schedule depends on the federal government agreeing to pay half the estimated $1.93 billion construction cost.

“We have a goal to minimize property acquisition because of cost and inconvenience for owners,” Kay said Wednesday. “It’s in everyone’s interest to do that.”

The Purple Line is designed to provide better east-west transit and connect Metrorail’s Red, Green and Orange lines in Maryland. Planners say the line also would spur redevelopment in older, inner suburbs such as the Riverdale area and Langley Park.

The list shows most properties would lose between 1 percent of an acre and half an acre. B.Jacobson acknowledged that 3 percent of an acre listed for potential condemnation at a house she owns in Chevy Chase might not sound like much. But she said it would probably amount to a significant chunk of her small lot on Lynn Drive. Jacobson rents out the house.

“That’s not a livable situation, to have trains going by 20 to 30 feet from your house,” Jacobson said. “It becomes a useless property.”

Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

Katherine Shaver is a transportation and development reporter. She joined The Washington Post in 1997 and has covered crime, courts, education and local government but most prefers writing about how people get — or don’t get — around the Washington region.
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