An agreement to move the Purple Line 12 feet to save a few golf course holes has caused a bit of a stir in Rockville.
Last week, the Washington Post reported that the Maryland Transit Administration, Montgomery County and Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase reached an agreement to move the planned light rail a dozen feet to the north for its 1,700 foot-length through the golf course.
It is no doubt a minor adjustment.
But the Post and others raised concerns that the country club (an opponent of the Purple Line from the beginning) got treatment that homeowners and businesses affected by the 16-mile light rail aren’t going to get. The Post also pointed to the secretive nature of the deal, agreed upon in June, that stops the country club from filing lawsuits against the state and requires both sides not comment on the matter.
On Monday, the two County councilmembers who represent Bethesda and Silver Spring wrote a letter to County Executive Isiah Leggett voicing their concerns. Councilmembers Roger Berliner (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) and Valerie Ervin (Silver Spring) wrote that while they recognize the adjustment “does serve the public interest,” they haven’t had the same success with the MTA when it came to mitigating the Purple Line in other areas:
Dear County Executive Leggett,
Last week the public learned that our County and the State entered into a confidential settlement in June of this year with the Columbia Country Club regarding the precise route of the Purple Line and certain treatments that will occur on its property. We regret that as Chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee/District 1 and District 5 Councilmembers, respectively, neither we nor our offices were advised of this settlement prior to press inquiries we received last week.
More broadly, the settlement has raised concerns in the larger community about “preferential treatment” being given to influential and powerful private clubs. 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 and Councilmembers Hans Riemer and George Leventhal said the 12-foot adjustment is not preferential treatment.
The Town of Chevy Chase, another opponent of the Purple Line, got the MTA to agree to install four-foot high sound walls to mitigate noise from the trains. The Purple Line will run along the existing Georgetown Branch Trail, right behind a number of Chevy Chase backyards.
In subsequent meetings and a Final Environmental Impact Statement, MTA officials have promised to expand that sound wall to all areas between Bethesda and Rock Creek Stream Valley Park. It is the only section of the 16-mile system where that mitigation is planned.
The Town of Chevy Chase also wants an at-grade crossing of the system at Lynn Drive. The MTA offered to build a crossing tunnel that would require the light rail tracks to be raised a few feet. The Town of Chevy Chase has rejected that proposal and hired a legal consultant to formulate a response to the FEIS.
The agreement will also give Columbia Country Club two golf-cart underpasses and county-owned land where the golf course already exists, according to the Post.