Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett says the agreement with the Columbia Country Club to alter the Purple Line’s route for the sake of its Chevy Chase golf course is not a special deal for wealthy and politically connected members, but one of several cases in which officials are working to accommodate property owners along the planned 16-mile route.
The Post reported last week that state and county officials signed an agreement with the country club to move the proposed light-rail line 12 feet to the north for its 1,700 -foot segment through the golf course, protecting clubhouse views and sparing four holes. Other concessions include a one-year limit for construction vehicles to use club property, guaranteed four-foot sound walls and promises of meetings at least every three months to discuss ongoing work.
What's more, signatories to the document, including officials of the county, the Maryland Transportation Administration and country club members, are prohibited from discussing it publicly — an attempt minimize opposition from hard-line club members who want nothing to do with the Purple Line.
Property owners elsewhere along the route can look forward to seeing homes and businesses condemned to make way for the project . The county already has right-of-way through the golf course.
But Leggett said Friday that county officials are working with owners up and down the line to address concerns. In many instances, he said, the county can only recommend to the state.
“We’re working with all kinds of groups, and if there are places we can urge the state to adjust, we’re going to do that,” Leggett said. In one instance, he added, he is trying to persuade the state to delay condemnation for some businesses along 16th Street in Silver Spring.In the Silver Spring community of Lyttonsville, for example, the state has agreed to redesign a rail yard and maintenance facility to locate it farther from homes.
County officials also said that they have been working in Bethesda, Chevy Chase and elsewhere to improve access to the Capital Crescent Trail. They’ve also reached an understanding on softening the impact of construction on parking and businesses along Bonifant Street between Georgia and Fenton.
Gary Erenrich, a special assistant to Transportation Director Arthur Holmes, said discussions are underway with Montgomery school officials to improve design and safety at Silver Spring International Middle School and Rosemary Hills Elementary.
Along Wayne Avenue, officials are talking to community groups about the location and size of an electrical power substation. Residents would like it placed underground.
Further east in Long Branch, there are talks with Federal Realty and other property owners about the design of the portal where trains will emerge from the planned tunnel.
The county is also pressing the state to abandon its plan for taking away a lane on each side of University Blvd and placing median tracks that would eventually be available for BRT buses.
“There are a whole bunch of issues being worked on in a very positive way,” Erenrich said.
County Council members said the country club deal was essential because of members’ ability to potentially tie the project up in litigation for years.
“This agreement is very much in the community interest,” said Montgomery County Council member George Leventhal (D-At Large), who initiated negotiations with the country club several years ago. “This removes the substantial political threat that well-connected members of the country club would block this from moving forward.”
The accord with the country club nevertheless raised questions on Monday from County Council members Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) and Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring), who said in a letter to Leggett that it “has raised concerns in the larger community about ‘preferential treatment’ being given to influential and powerful private clubs.”
The letter goes on to say:
“Let us make clear that we believe this settlement does serve the public interest. However, we have been working for many years to mitigate the impact of the Purple Line on many communities that will be impacted along the alignment. While our offices have had some success in certain discrete areas, we have not always been able to convince the state to adjust its plans to accommodate community concerns.
“We believe it is important for you to state unequivocally that the full weight of the County, and your office in particular, stands ready to assist communities along the full length of the Purple Line alignment to minimize adverse impacts. While the threat of litigation that had been raised by Columbia County Club posed a serious threat to the Purple Line, litigation threats themselves should not serve to distinguish which interests are taken seriously by our County. All of our residential communities need our mitigation assistance. We know that you share that view, and we look forward to working in partnership with you on behalf of the communities we represent.”
Leggett’s response, released by his office early Monday evening, reiterated some of the points he made Friday:
“Please be advised that County government has already been working with interested communities and businesses in order to assist them with potential impacts along the Purple Line route. The County’s small role in the agreement with Columbia Country Club is but one example. Another involves changes in the Lyttonsville area we helped to effect there. ... We are currently working with a number of other communities.
“Ultimately, of course, the State of Maryland is going to have the final word. My office is committed, however, to continuing to work as an advocate for the legitimate concerns of all our communities. That is what we have done and will continue to do. I look forward to working with you toward that end.”
Council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large) said moving the line 12 feet “doesn’t seem like very special treatment.”
“They have opposed the line vigorously for decades,” Riemer said. Just shifting it doesn’t affect the line in terms of its functionality. The bottom line is the state needs to look at every impact and make every reasonable accommodation that they can.”