Two Silver Spring couples who face losing chunks of their front yards to the Purple Line sued the state of Maryland on Monday, contending that transportation officials shortchanged them on the purchase price offered for the land, needed to build the $5.6 billion light-rail project.
They also are seeking class status so that dozens more impacted property owners can join the lawsuit.
The suit, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, asserts that the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) illegally offered compensation only for the land it wants to take — but not for the diminished value of the remaining land.
Michele Rosenfeld, the attorney for the property owners, said the state appeared to be attempting to recoup money lost when Gov. Larry Hogan (R) shaved about $500 million from the cost of the project before giving it his blessing last year.
“Finding money to build the Purple Line has been a challenge for the MTA, but fleecing my clients is clearly not fair or legal,” Rosenfeld said.
She asked the court to certify the defendants as a class so that the estimated 50 to 100 other residential property owners along the route in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties can join the suit.
Paul Shepard, an MTA spokesman, said the agency would have no comment on the suit until it is reviewed by legal counsel.
The two couples live along Wayne Avenue, just east of downtown Silver Spring, an area expected to be one of the most directly impacted by the 16.2-mile light-rail line linking Bethesda in Montgomery and New Carrollton in Prince George’s.
Andrew Hoddick, who lives with his wife, Karen FitzGerald, in the 700 block of Wayne Avenue, said in a statement provided by Rosenfeld that he was offered $11,200 by the state, which will take most of his front yard.
“My house is about 75 feet from where the train will run,” Hoddick said. “Starting at 6:15 in the morning, 135-foot trains will rumble by my home every 7½ minutes. Of course my house will be devalued,” Hoddick said. His home has an assessed value of $618,000, according to City-Data.com.
The other couple, Cynthia and William Milloy, who live in the 800 block of Wayne Avenue, said in the suit they were offered $13,849 plus an additional $3,911 for a temporary construction easement. City-Data shows their property has an assessed value of $526,220.
Rosenfeld said the value of the properties could be completely lost because of the rail line, with ground vibrations, squealing wheels and overhead power lines. The suit asks for a minimum of $750,000 in compensatory damages and punitive damages of $100,000 for each couple.
Rosenfeld said the suit was not an attempt to halt construction of the Purple Line, which is expected to begin in November or December in Prince George’s.
“We’re not trying to argue the pros and cons of the Purple Line,” she said, but only to obtain “just compensation” on behalf of her clients.
Most of the alignment west of downtown Silver Spring is along the wooded Georgetown Branch Trail.
While some residents and environmental activists have objected to trains running along the trail — the Purple Line’s construction will require cutting hundreds of mature trees — Montgomery County has owned the land to preserve for a transit way since 1988. Construction is expected to take six years.
If construction begins on time, the line is scheduled to begin carrying passengers in spring 2022.