Save The Trail Leader Builds Fence Near Trail, Opponents Cry Foul

The controversial fence under construction in May 2013, photo via Wayne Phyillaier The controversial fence today,photo via Wayne Phyillaier

This controversial fence backing up to the Capital Crescent Trail in Chevy Chase belongs to Ajay Bhatt, the president of a group pushing to save the trail from Purple Line construction.

On Jan. 21, a district court judge ruled the fence — built last May — was built illegally, about 18 feet into the county’s right-of-way. It’s also in the path of a planned retaining wall for the Purple Line.

Thursday, longtime Purple Line supporter Wayne Phyillaier argued Bhatt’s new fence shows a conflict of interest and could pose problems for the Maryland Transit Administration if and when it starts building the 16-mile system. Part of the Purple Line would include two light rail tracks and a rebuilt trail on the existing Georgetown Branch extension right-of-way.

“I think it’s important that the county protect the right-of-way from new construction,” said Phyillaier, who wrote about the fence in detail on his blog, Silver Spring Trails. “He knew, or should have known, just from being in the middle of this for so long.”

Bhatt, who was fined $500, is appealing the ruling and will have another court hearing in April.

He is the president of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, a group that opposes the Purple Line in its proposed form because it would mean the loss of the existing trail and some of the existing green space.

Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail President Ajay Bhatt at the announcement of a public-private partnership for the Purple Line in August“Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail is dedicated to preserving and augmenting the opportunities to appreciate nature and recreation on the segment of Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring,” Bhatt said in a prepared release on Wednesday in response to recent Purple Line funding decisions. “Our vision is a World Class Park stretching from Georgetown to Silver Spring. Clear cutting and removing a mature forest ecosystem inside the Beltway — where it can never be replaced — is contrary to the goals of smart growth and sustainability that so many environmental proponents of the Purple Line supposedly espouse.”

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.

Phyillaier said he’s making Bhatt’s fence a public issue because the construction is new.

“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.”

It’s the most recent example of Purple Line supporters and opponents butting heads.

As the Town of Chevy Chase debated a legal fund to lobby against the Purple Line, members of the pro-Purple Line Action Committee for Transit claimed Town Mayor Pat Burda had a conflict of interest and a public hearing wasn’t held in accordance with public meeting laws.

ACT also questioned the Town’s decision to hire a lobbying firm that employes the brother of an influential member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Burda rebuked ACT’s claims by saying the group was “attempting to distract from the obvious and abundant flaws,” in the Purple Line’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.

The Town Council later approved a contract of up to $350,000 with lobbyists and legal firms to fight the Purple Line and pressure the MTA into desired mitigation.

Phyillaier said he didn’t consult with ACT or any other pro-Purple Line group before examining Bhatt’s fence.

ACT on Thursday tweeted out a screen capture of the online court record of Bhatt’s fence case, which was brought by Montgomery County as a code violation.

Reached by email, Bhatt characterized the fence controversy as a series of personal attacks.

Fence photos via Wayne Phyillaier


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