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Save The Trail Group Decries ‘Personal Attack’ Over $500 Fence Fine

By Aaron Kraut

Monday - 3/10/2014, 1:05pm  ET

The controversial fence under construction in May 2013, photo via Wayne PhyillaierA group opposed to Purple Line construction on the Capital Crescent Trail says a Purple Line supporter is behind a $500 county-levied fine against its president, who built a new backyard fence last summer in the county-owned trail right-of-way.

Last week, we told you the story of Ajay Bhatt, president of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and a Chevy Chase resident whose home backs up to the Georgetown Branch extension of the trail.

Bhatt, an ardent critic of the Purple Line as currently proposed, built a new fence around his property, except Montgomery County found the fence to have been built illegally, about 18 feet on to its property. The county’s right-of-way includes the trail and is set to be handed over to the state for construction of the 16-mile light rail system.

Wayne Phyillaier, a Silver Spring resident who supports the Purple Line because it would include a rebuilt trail, documented Bhatt’s fine and upcoming appeal in a blog post.

On Friday, Bhatt provided this response from the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail group, which indicates Phyillaier prompted a county investigation into the fence:

We are responding to a recent personal attack on our President, Ajay Bhatt. As most of you know, Ajay resides along the trail in a home owned by his family since 1977, and his family has enjoyed the trail immensely. Many homes along the trail include fences, sheds, and similar structures that overlap the county right-of-way — a holdover from when the railroad owned the land. A fence has been at Ajay’s house since the late 70s, and it has been replaced at least three times since then. In an effort to pull attention away from the real issues with the Purple Line, Wayne Phyillaier, an active Purple Line booster and blogger, complained about the fence and the county subsequently responded with a citation. Mr. Phyillaier is not a neighbor and has no legitimate interest in this particular fence. Ajay properly sought and received a permit for the fence and is exercising his legal rights to resolve this issue in the most common sense way. FCCT has raised many significant concerns regarding the proposed Purple Line, many of which are detailed in our response to the Final Environmental Impact Statement. These are the real issues that affect everyone, and we welcome respectful discourse on these topics from all interested parties.

Last week, Phyillaier told us he wouldn’t have written about the fence, had it not been for its new construction by a resident who clearly knew the history of the trail right-of-way.

The controversial fence today,photo via Wayne Phyillaier“It’s the most recent construction that I know of,” Phyillaier said. “I don’t think it’s necessary for the county to start going through and ripping through all these old fences and old tool sheds. There’s really no public good in ripping them out or confronting the property owner. I think it’s important that the county confront Ajay or anyone else who is doing new construction.”

Behind homes in Chevy Chase that back up to the trail, there are many fences and sheds that are technically in the county-owned Georgetown Branch right-of-way.

Many were built before Montgomery County purchased the right-of-way for a potential transit line in 1988, some as far back as the 1950s. That has caused confusion and frustration among some homeowners whose backyards back up to the trail.

The trail used to be a CSX rail line.

It’s unclear what permit Bhatt received for the fence construction. There’s no record of a permit issued in 2013 for his property in the county’s Public Right of Way records. There is no record of a Residential Construction Permit issued for his property in either 2012 or 2013.

Photos via Wayne Phyillaier