"Tot lot" playground area and tennis courts owned by Old Town Greens Homeowners' Association.
Metro ceased negotiations last week to obtain certain private properties during construction of the Potomac Yard Metrorail station, referring the issue to the Justice Department for eminent domain proceedings.
The properties in question are adjacent to the tracks to the east, just south of where the new station will sprout up. They include a traffic circle owned by Potomac Greens HOA, a townhouse development; and a tennis court and “tot lot” playground area owned by Old Town Greens HOA, a townhouse and condo development.
These properties are “required for contractor access to the project site during construction,” said City Manager Mark Jinks in an Oct. 23 email to City Council. “The property owners will be compensated for the use of the land during the construction period, and all of the features will be restored once the construction has been completed [in 2022]. The tot lot will be temporarily relocated during the construction so residents will still have access to it.”
But the parties haven’t been able to agree about the particulars.
“WMATA’s real estate team has negotiated in good faith for two years with both parties,” said Jinks. But “WMATA reports that Old Town Greens has been non-responsive and Potomac Greens has made demands that are beyond the ability of WMATA to provide. WMATA is taking this action at this time because they are contractually obligated to provide the contractor all required lands to execute the project by January 1, 2019.”
Neither HOA agrees with these characterizations about them.
Marla Diaz, a lawyer representing Old Town Greens, says the HOA hasn’t been unresponsive but, on the contrary, “has been participating with WMATA in this process.”
Ron Lafond, president of the Potomac Greens HOA, disagrees that WMATA has negotiated in good faith so far. He says the HOA received WMATA’s initial offer in 2017, but that the residents had concerns about “a whole host of issues” — for example, impacts on street parking and processes for damages and emergencies. The HOA sent a counter-offer, but didn’t hear back until this summer, about a year later. Claiming never to have received the counter-offer, WMATA reiterated its initial terms, which the HOA still rejected, according to LaFond.
“We don't have any desire to drag this through court, we are just trying to protect the safety interests of our community," he said. "We are hopeful that we can still come to a resolution without having to go through condemnation proceedings."
A resolution is still possible. The Justice Department has until early December to file for eminent domain.
“The Department of Justice has said they prefer to settle these matters and not use eminent domain,” said Craig Fifer, a city spokesman, on Monday, Oct. 29. “WMATA has been considering options and will be reaching out the Potomac Greens association to discuss further.”
In any case, it’s “unsettling” that “WMATA did not provide any advance notice to the city that they had decided to … proceed with eminent domain,” said Jinks.
WMATA didn’t respond to a request for comment.