Chevy Chase to hold hearings on Purple Line spending
Public can weigh in on using town funds to oppose transit project
Chevy Chase residents probably will get the chance to voice their thoughts at the end of the summer on whether the town should continue to oppose the Purple Line project
Town Council members have said they consider the informational hearing and a legal public hearing necessary before any council votes are taken about spending more town funds opposing the Purple Line through a lawsuit or other means.
The Purple Line is a proposed 16-mile light rail project from Bethesda to New Carrollton, via Silver Spring, which has been approved by the Planning Board and the County Council and would be built by the Maryland Transit Administration. Town leaders have been vocal in their opposition to the light rail system, which, if built as proposed, would run along Capital Crescent Trail along the town's northern border.
Many town residents also oppose the proposal to put light rail along the Capital Crescent Trail, arguing that it would permanently destroy the green, recreational space the trail provides. Town leaders have proposed a rapid bus system at the Medical Center Metro station and along Jones Bridge Road as an alternative to light rail. The town has also spent $430,000 over the last two years on a consultant to help fight light rail along the trail. The Town Council submitted official public comments to the Maryland Transit Administration outlining their opposition to the project.
Some town residents claim the town's actions do not fairly represent those who support Purple Line light rail.
The town's Long-Range Planning Committee recommended at its May meeting that the town hold the two meetings. The Town Council will discuss the issue at its June 10 session.
"The point is to update residents as to what the town's position is and what the town's options are moving forward," said Councilwoman Pat Burda, the former chair of the Long-Range Planning Committee, who has opposed light rail on the trail along with other council members.
During her successful campaign for a council seat this year, Burda pledged that the town would hold public meetings on Purple Line light rail before further funds were spent opposing it. She said she hoped the informational session and the public hearing could be held a few weeks apart in September.
Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is scheduled to choose the state's preferred mode and location of the Purple Line in the near future. The project will then be analyzed by the Federal Transit Administration. Burda said it was her understanding that the town could not file a lawsuit to stop the project until the FTA made its decision.
"There are a handful of people who want us to say, `It's over,' " Burda said, noting that other options besides a lawsuit could be open to the town, including no-cost alternatives. "I think there are more people who would say to protect the trail."
Arthur Rowse, who wrote a letter to O'Malley expressing his support for the Purple Line that was signed by other town residents, said the meetings were merely a signal that the town's opposition would go forward regardless of the public's input.
"This means that we are heading for more expense and more involvement, possibly litigation, and further deterioration of the town's reputation by portraying all the townspeople as being NIMBYites and caring only for their own property and property values," Rowse said.
NIMBY is an acronym for "Not in My Back Yard."
In the town's proposed fiscal 2010 budget, there is $14,000 for the town's consultant on the Purple Line, Sam Schwartz, compared to the estimated total of $180,000 scheduled to be paid to Schwartz during the current 2009 fiscal year, which ends June 30. During fiscal 2008, the town spent $250,000 on consultant's fees to Sam Schwartz.
On behalf of the town, Schwartz detailed reasons why a rapid bus line on Jones Bridge Road would be more effective than light rail for the Purple Line.
The information session and public hearing are not legally required for any money to be spent by the town to fight the Purple Line. Such an appropriation would only require the majority vote of the council. The town's proposed budget shows an estimated $2.4 million in unallocated reserve funds at the end of fiscal 2010 that could be used for Purple Line opposition.
Burda said a consultant from Sam Schwartz could run the informational meeting but acknowledged that such a move could raise questions about the consultant's impartiality. She said she could also run the meeting. Rowse argued against involving Sam Schwartz.
"He doesn't work for nothing," he said.
Both Burda and Rowse expressed reservations about holding a public referendum on opposition to Purple Line light rail, saying such a step would be complicated.