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Another Purple Line Fence Controversy In Chevy Chase

By Aaron Kraut

Tuesday - 9/2/2014, 2:50pm  ET

Fence being built into the Georgetown Branch Trail right of way behind 4303 Elm St.

Another backyard fence built in what looks to be the future path of the Purple Line has popped up in Chevy Chase, just as a Montgomery County judge contemplates what to make of a similar case in which a homeowner was slapped with a $500 fine.

As pointed out by Silver Spring Trails blogger and Purple Line supporter Wayne Phyillaier, workers are building a backyard fence behind the property at 4303 Elm St. The home on that lot has been demolished in order to make way for a new one.

The fence (pictured) backs almost all the way up to the existing Georgetown Branch Trail. Phyillaier said the fence clearly extends past the property line and into the Montgomery County-owned right of way dedicated to the planned Purple Line light rail.

One of the builders on the site on Tuesday spoke with BethesdaNow.com and said he’s following the rules — as far as he knows — but admitted the property lines are a grey area.

The deed to the property traces back to the 1950′s and includes the part of the property where the fence is now being constructed, the builder said. It’s the same place a previous fence was built.

For decades, residents with homes backing up to the trail and former railroad have built fences and placed sheds behind their homes on land that was technically not their property.

The issue became most apparent earlier this year, when a Montgomery County District Court judge ruled that Chevy Chase resident Ajay Bhatt illegally built a new fence behind his Chevy Chase home that stretched into county right of way.

Bhatt, president of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, has been an outspoken critic of the proposed route for the 16-mile Purple Line, claiming the project would deprive local residents of an invaluable environmental and recreational resource. The state and county plan to rebuild the trail along the light rail route.

Last week, the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and two other Chevy Chase residents sued the federal government, claiming a group of agencies violated the Endangered Species Act when evaluating the Purple Line proposal.

The next day, Bhatt’s lawyer made his case in a Circuit Court appeal on the fence issue, according to the Washington Post. The attorney argued that Bhatt essentially owns the land because a previous property owner built a fence in the same spot. The case is under review.

If the judge rules in Bhatt’s favor, it could mean the state would have to condemn the land it thought was being handed over from the county, then buy it from homeowners at a fair market price.

If not, Bhatt will have to pay the $500 fine and take down the fence.

Home demolition and rebuild project at 4303 Elm StreetMontgomery County’s Department of Permitting Services granted a fence permit to AR Home Improvement for 4303 Elm St. on Aug. 26.

The department also granted Bhatt a fence permit before the county deemed it illegal. Bhatt and the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail claimed Phyillaier was behind the complaint that brought the issue to the county’s attention.

Phyillaier said he wouldn’t have brought it up if it wasn’t new construction so close to the planned construction of the Purple Line. State officials hope to start the project in late 2015.

One of the builders at 4303 Elm St., who identified himself as Rashid, said he wanted to build the new fence on the spot to save a number of trees from removal. He also said the site of the fence was “grandfathered, as far as I know,” and he met with officials from DPS and from the Town of Chevy Chase multiple times to clear the project.

A spokesperson for the Department of Permitting Services has not returned a request for comment.