Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Some times, Chris Christie type politics are understandable: The Town of Chevy Chase Maryland's continued opposition to light rail

Conceptual graphic of what a circle line "Purple Line" could be, from the Sierra Club Sustainable Metro DC campaign.

When I worked on H Street NE revitalization issues, the biggest stumbling block we had to deal with was the H Street Community Development Corporation, which had a decidedly "urban renewal" tear the historic buildings down approach.

They demolished a set of buildings at the corner of 8th and H St. NE, which included one of the oldest buildings on the corridor, dating to 1872.  Then they decided to build a one story building, with a fake second floor.

The city was willing to give them more money to build a real second floor but they weren't interested.  When someone from the Mayor's Office said "there's nothing we can do if they won't negotiate" I said, "sure there is, you can take away all their other funding."  He stopped talking and said "we never thought about that" but they never followed through and did it.

Light rail in Barcelona.  Photo by John Norquist.  This is how light rail can be inserted into the old Georgetown Branch Railroad corridor in Montgomery County.

So I do understand Chris Christie type hardball tactics, and sometimes I wish I were in the position to be able to wield such tactics, such as with the Town of Chevy Chase Maryland and their consistent opposition to the addition of light rail transit service in  Montgomery County.

Below is a reprint of a press release from Action Committee for Transit, the Montgomery County sustainable transportation advocacy group that has spearheaded the creation of the Purple Line light rail system--a proposed circle line connecting all of the legs of the Metrorail system--the first stage serving Montgomery and Prince George's Counties--since its founding more than 20 years ago.

This section of the line is proposed to be run on since "abandoned" rail line that used to serve a power station in Georgtown in DC.

For all intents and purposes, many residents on either side of the tracks have mostly done a form of "adverse possession" (which isn't legal when practiced against government-owned land) and have expanded their yards into the railroad right of way, which is also used as the Capital Crescent Trail.

Opponents who don't want a light rail "in their backyards" are using a variety of subterfuges such as "Save the Trail" or "the line is really just a way to make money for developers with no useful purpose"--even though once it opens it's likely to have the highest ridership of any single light rail line in the US, with as many or more than 70,000 daily riders--as a way to obfuscate that their opposition is nothing more than self-interest.

Recently, in return for some use of the abutting land, the Chevy Chase Golf Course agreed to drop its opposition to the line ("Purple Line Route Changed to Spare Part of Country Club Golf Course," Washington Post).

But the Town of Chevy Chase still shoulders on in opposition and they have the money to burn, as the ACT group and the Washington Post point out, by hiring a lobbying firm with familial connections to the chair of the US House of Representatives Infrastructure and Transportation Committee.

ACT's press release:

New questions arose today about the Town of Chevy Chase's relationship with the brother of House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Bill Shuster.

The new questions follow an expose in this morning's Washington Post of the small wealthy town's intention to pay $400,000 to the firm of Pennsylvania lawyer-lobbyist Robert Shuster.  The town has tried for years to block the building of the Purple Line, a badly needed transit link that would run along its border.  In the Post article, Mayor Pat Burda defends the town's behavior by saying that “We’re not lobbying Congress.”

But a disclosure form that Robert Shuster's firm filed with the U.S. House of Representatives shows just the opposite. It states explicitly that Shuster and his partners are lobbying the House of Representatives and Senate for the Town of Chevy Chase.

 “The news about this unseemly arrangement gets worse and worse,” said Action Committee for Transit vice-president Ronit Aviva Dancis. ACT, a volunteer-run organization of transit supporters that has advocated for the Purple Line since 1986, first unearthed the connection between Shuster and the town.
Purple Line routing.  Washington Post graphic by Nathaniel Kelso. 

 A section of the Capital Crescent Trail.

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