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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Md. Court Picks Thorn Out of Light Rail’s Paw

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CN) - Plans for a light rail connecting New Carrollton and Bethesda overcame legal hurdles as the Maryland Court of Appeals blocked a taxpayer from taking adverse possession of county property needed for the project.

Ajay Bhatt had claimed a fence that had been behind his Chevy Chase home since at least 1960 allowed him to take adverse possession of land once owned by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, immortalized by its initials B&O in the board game Monopoly.

When the trains stopped running in 1985, Montgomery County bought the rail line for $10 million, and the land has served for the last 20 years as the Capital Crescent Trail, stretching from Georgetown in Washington, D.C., to Silver Spring.

Bhatt's fence stood in the way, however, of Montgomery's plan to convert the trail for a $2.5 billion light-rail project called the Purple Line.

Though the county cited Bhatt over his fence, it faced the possibility of having to buy Bhatt's land when a circuit judge said the resident had a creditable claim for adverse possession.

The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed for the county last week, however, opening the 22-page opinion with a verse from The Grateful Dead's hit song "Casey Jones."

Echoing the warning for Jones to watch his speed, the court noted that the record "hints at plenty of potential trouble, both ahead and behind, for a pair of public works projects (one in place and the other incipient) cherished by the government and some citizens of Montgomery County."

Judge Glenn Harrell Jr. wrote the opinion for the unanimous court on Jan. 22, sitting on this case by special assignment after reaching the mandatory age of retirement in 2015.

While the opening quote evinces the wit that led the Daily Record to dub Harrell as court's "resident humorist," the opinion is otherwise matter of fact in cutting through Bhatt's challenge.

Since Bhatt failed to show that the railroad or the county abandoned the right-of-way abutting his property, his claim for adverse possession cannot prevail, Harrell found.

"Bhatt's fence and shed encroached upon the right-of-way in violation of Montgomery County Code § 49-10(b)," the ruling states. "The District Court got it right."

Construction of the 16-mile Purple Line is slated to begin late this year and finish in 2021, according to Purplelinemd.com .

The Office of Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett did not return a request for comment.

Friends of The Capital Crescent Trail, a nonprofit that lists Bhatt as its president, also did not return a request for comment. The group says it is "dedicated to saving the trail."

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