Construction of the rail line is scheduled to begin in November or December, and some pre-construction work, such as surveying, began shortly after the state signed a $5.6-billion contract on the project in April.
Patrick Lacefield, spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), said the state hasn’t told the county exactly when Purple Line construction will begin along the trail. State officials have said the line’s construction will start in Prince George’s, and they plan to release an overall project construction schedule after the contract reaches financial closure June 2.
When residents first received the letters in January, Lacefield said, county officials heard from some who said, “What’s the rush? We don’t even know if the Purple Line is going to be built.”
“I don’t think we’re getting that anymore,” Lacefield said. “It’s our job to turn the right-of-way over to the state so they can proceed [with construction], and we take that seriously. … We’ve basically given people four months notice.”
Montgomery bought the trail land from a freight railroad in 1988 for $10 million to preserve for a transit-way. Over the years, as the land was used for an interim cycling and jogging trail, residents whose back yards adjoin the trail have built fences, retaining walls, swing sets and other structures along the trail’s shoulders. Some residents have said they were unaware of the property lines and have long considered land along the trail to be part of their back yards. The state plans to rebuild the trail alongside the light-rail tracks.
The fight over one Chevy Chase resident’s back fence in the Purple Line right-of-way reached Maryland’s highest court. In January, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled against the homeowner, saying he couldn’t claim ownership of a 14-foot strip of trail land simply because it had been fenced into his back yard for decades. The court ruled in the county’s favor, saying the homeowner’s claim of “adverse possession” wasn’t valid on land that had always been intended for public use.
Of the 72 property owners who received letters, 11 have told the county they’ve cleared their structures, and 29 have said they’re in the process of doing so, Lacefield said. Another 21 have contacted the county with questions, but the status of their structures isn’t known. Some who have contacted the county have been given more time, but no formal exceptions have been granted, Lacefield said.
Eleven other property owners have had no contact with the county, and county officials haven’t determined what, if anything, they’ve done, he said.
Anyone who refuses to remove a structure from county-owned land can receive a civil citation and an additional “abatement order,” Lacefield said.
“We want to avoid that, obviously,” he said. “That’s why we’re working with people.”
Lacefield said county officials soon will do a more formal count along the trail and, this week, will begin knocking on doors of residents who haven’t been in touch about the status of their structures.
The county has offered to reimburse residents up to $3,000 in removal costs.