Deloris and Bob Ellis received a surprise letter from Metro three weeks ago -- one that shook their lives.
Metro -- the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority (WAMATA) -- notified them that it needed land for additional parking space at the Addison Road train stop, and that they would have to sell the property they have lived on for 11 years.
"I cried," said the Deloris Ellis, 46, who has lived on Zelma Avenue near the intersection of Central Avenue and Addison Road since 1969. "Me and my husband put a lot of hard work and effort into making this a real home. And now this happens."
The Ellises were not the only residents to get bad news in the tiny community between Seat Pleasant and Capitol Heights, next to the Addison Road Metro stop scheduled to open near the end of this year.
Some residents were notified that their newest neighbor would be a 600-car parking lot. A few found out they might lose their backyards. Finally, about nine of the 30 or so families in the neighborhood learned they would have to move out.
"They left us hanging high and dry," said 67-year-old Earl Youngs, who has lived in the area with his wife Helen, 64, for nearly 30 years. "We have no idea where we'll be living this time next year. Heck, you might find us in a tent on a empty lot somewhere."
"We've never moved more than three times in our entire lives," said Helen Youngs. "We don't know where to start. This house has been in the family for 40 years. How do you pack up and say good-bye?"
Metro's decision to tear down 10 houses and build the parking lot has sent tremors through this tiny integrated community of modestly priced brick houses, which is home to many middle-aged and elderly families.
Last week, the Zelma Avenue Civic Association held a meeting to organzie resistance to the Metro action, focusing their efforts on a public hearing scheduled for April 10.
Residents point out that Metro could have chosen any number of other sites to supplement its parking, particularly since there were several vacant lots in the area.
"I think they took the cheap way out, money-wise that is," said Dorothea Willis, president of the civic association. "They didn't care about the people in this neighborhood. They probably figured they could do anything to a bunch of disabled folks and minorities and get away with it," Willis said, adding that several persons in the neighborhood have physical handicaps.
Association members have worked frantically in the last three weeks to save their neighborhood, calling politicians, newspapers, and radio and television stations for help.
"We don't know what's going to happen, but Metro won't destroy this neighborhood without a fight," said Willis, who stands to lose her backyard.
"It's a disgrace. That's what it is," said Alonzo Whitener who has lived on Addison Road about nine years and has been told he will have to sell his home and property to Metro. "It don't make no sense for them to come in here running people off their property and buying up their land. Metro has enough land for parking. They haven't done anything with the property they already have."
Metro decided in 1978 that the Addison Road stop, among others in the metropolitan area, would need additional parking. Under the original station plan drafted in 1973, only 482 parking spaces were to be provided even though a study showed a demand for 3,100.
Metro planners say they provided far fewer spaces than were actually needed because of cost, and because they wanted commuters to rely more heavily on buses for transportation to the subway stations. Now the planners say they need an additional 600 spaces, and that the land between Zelma Avenue and Addison Road is the ideal site.
"We have no alternative site that is big enough and is in walking distance of the station," said Lee Skillman, a site planner in the Office of System and Services for WAMATA. "The dollars are limited and if we built structured parking on the land we already have, it's safe to say we wouldn't get half as many parking spaces as we're planning for."
Skillman said the Metro planners consulted staff members in County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan's office, the county planning commission, and the Maryland Department of Transportation before selecting the Zelma Avenue-Addison Road site.
"We had limited money and I think everyone agreed that this site was the most economical, had the best location, and the least development on it," added Skillman.
If it fails to reach agreement on a settlement with private property owners, Metro, as a public body, has the right to condemn property and pay the owners the fair-market price for it. That power is granted to public bodies under the right of eminent domain in the Constitution.
Property owners are given a chance to voice their opinions on any proposed action during a public hearing. They also have recourse in the courts after Metro makes a final decision.
Area residents, however, say they feel Metro could have chosen several sites farther from the station and provided shuttle transportation to the station.
"They could have done any number of things, but they chose to take the cheap route," said Willis.
Metro has notified the affected residents that they will be paid "fair market value" for their homes and property, but to many that seems little consolation.
"In times of high inflation like this, buying at fair market value is almost like throwing somebody out in the street," said Ellis. "Our monthly mortgage payment would almost be double what it is now, and who wants to worry about where their next meal is coming from?"
Ellis says that while the community plans to fight Metro, its chances of winning are slim.
"One thing that is hurting us is that we don't belong to either Seat Pleasant or Capitol Heights, so we don't have any local politicians to fight for us," she said.
"I guess if you're not in power, you don't have a voice. And you really don't realize how true that is until a situation like this hits you."
"What makes it so bad is the sneaky way they did this to us," said Earl Youngs, who supports himself and his wife on a retirement pension. "We had no warning. I think it was pretty underhanded of them to do this. The Metro station was a good idea, but now they want to take my house."
The residents have now pinned their hopes on what happens at the public hearing next month. Sometime after the hearing, the Metro board will take a final vote on the proposed parking lot.
"I can't believe this," said Leroy Flack, a resident who is not directly affected by the Metro parking plans but has taken a active interest in the dispute.
"You mean to tell me that there aren't laws to protect people? This is a democracy. Nobody should be able to walk up and tell you, 'I'm going to make you a few offers for your property, then I'm going to take it,'" he said. "What kind of a democracy is that?"