Officials: List of properties potentially affected by Purple Line is out of date

February 15, 2012

Maryland transit officials say a list they released last month of homes, businesses and parcels potentially affected by construction of a proposed Purple Line is two years out of date, but they do not maintain a more current list.

Some community leaders, meanwhile, say they are concerned state transit officials are trying to suppress potential opposition to the light rail plan by not providing updates. They say residents need to know as soon as possible whether their homes or yards are being eyed for condemnation so they can push for possible design changes.

“They should update and correct that list,” said Kathleen Samiy, president of the Seven Oaks-Evanswood Citizens’ Association, which represents an area east of downtown Silver Spring where 55 properties were listed as losing land, either permanently or temporarily. “We just want facts.”

The Washington Post published a list of about 500 addresses that the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) said might be affected by the construction of a ­16-mile light rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton. About 74 of the “takes” were entire homes or businesses, but most were listed as parts of front yards and parking lots. Of the 500 properties, 170 were cited as being needed only temporarily during construction.

The MTA provided the list, dated May 2010, to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as part of the MTA’s application for federal construction money for the $1.93 billion light rail line, which officials have said would open in 2020, at the earliest. The Post obtained the list via a public records request.


The proposed route of the Purple Line.

Maryland transit officials have since said, however, that the list includes addresses that would be avoided by recent design changes. They say they are notifying property owners affected along the route via community meetings.

“We don’t have an updated list,” said MTA spokesman Terry Owens. “We’re designing an alignment. Engineers use maps and drawings and other things. Compiling addresses and taking them on and off a list is not something they’re doing.”

Owens said the list the MTA released was compiled only to demonstrate to the FTA that the state had the ability to handle real estate transactions under eminent domain law. The MTA expects to have a new list in January, when a final environmental impact statement is completed, he said.

But community leaders along the planned Purple Line route say they are concerned that the state has not always been forthcoming, particularly on issues that might draw opposition.

Samiy, of the Seven Oaks- ­Evanswood Citizens’ Association, said her neighborhood Internet mailing list lit up with “outrage” because neighborhood leaders had been told most front yards in their area of Wayne Avenue would not be needed for a Purple Line. State officials did not mention the Wayne Avenue addresses at two community meetings last fall, she said.

“Now we feel like we don’t know what to believe anymore,” Samiy said.

Samiy said the MTA has not told her neighborhood how many of the Wayne Avenue addresses on the two-year-old list would still be affected. The MTA engineering drawings are highly technical and “impossible” for lay people to understand, she said.

In the Lyttonsville area of Silver Spring, residents say they did not learn from Purple Line planners until September that they had moved a planned rail car yard closer to homes. It was only after residents got county officials involved, they say, that the state transit planners agreed to rework the designs to make the rail yard less obtrusive.

“The community was very upset about that,” said Charlotte Coffield, president of Lyttonsville Community Civic Association. “We don’t want a surprise. . . . We want to be informed.”

Prince George’s Council Vice Chairman Eric Olson (D-College Park), who represents Riverdale Park residents along a Purple Line route, applauded MTA efforts to reach out to his communities.

“They’ve always been willing to talk to people with questions about the alignment,” Olson said.

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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