Busi­nesses in limbo as they await Pur­ple Line

The Enquire-Gazette - - News - By BRIT­TANY BRITTO Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

SIL­VER SPRING — Op­ti­cian Del­mar Nel­son sits alone in his of­fice on a late win­ter af­ter­noon. Just out­side the door, rows of un­touched eye­glasses sit in dis­plays il­lu­mi­nated by yel­low lights.

No one has walked into his store for the past hour.

Busi­ness has been like this for a while, he says, and he doesn’t ex­pect things to get bet­ter be­fore the Pur­ple Line deal is done.

Nel­son, the owner of Crest Op­ti­cians in Sil­ver Spring, said he has seen fewer cus­tomers and more down time since Gov. Larry Ho­gan an­nounced plans to move for­ward with the Pur­ple Line project — a 16-mile light rail with 21 stops con­nect­ing Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties.

An Au­gust 2013 Pur­ple Line im­pact state­ment showed that an es­ti­mate of 60 busi­nesses and 246 em­ploy­ees in the state of Mary­land will be dis­placed. In Sil­ver Spring alone, close to 40 busi­ness and more than 140 em­ploy­ees will be dis­placed. Nel­son is one of them. The $5.6 bil­lion tran­sit project is set to oblit­er­ate the Spring Cen­ter shop­ping cen­ter at the cor­ner of 16th and Spring streets, where Crest Op­ti­cians is one of 20 busi­nesses that the state is buy­ing to make way for the rail line.

Ac­cord­ing to the state tran­sit ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion has spent $19.3 mil­lion on all prop­erty ac­qui­si­tion ac­tiv­i­ties for the Pur­ple Line through Oc­to­ber 2015. An es­ti­mated to­tal of $263.5 mil­lion has been bud­geted for prop­erty ac­qui­si­tions be­tween the 2016 and 2021 fis­cal years.

The 79-year-old said he has been on edge ever since peo­ple from the Pur­ple Line came to his shop and handed him a folder. They ex­plained the new project and as­signed him a coun­selor whom he could call if he had ques­tions, he said. That was more than three years ago.

Since then, Nel­son hasn’t heard much from Pur­ple Line rep­re­sen­ta­tives. He spoke to them about a year ago, but gets most of his up­dates from news­pa­pers, he said ear­lier this month.

Nel­son knows that as a res­i­dent of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., his liv­ing sit­u­a­tion won’t be af­fected, but his busi­ness is at a stand­still. With­out a lo­ca­tion, Nel­son can’t move for­ward, and he’s not sure whether he wants to.

“This should be a time where I could sell my busi­ness, but be­cause of the Pur­ple Line, I can’t get a sale,” said Nel­son, who has owned the shop for 50 years.

Neigh­bor­ing fran­chise busi­ness Signs by To­mor­row has been a facet of the Spring Cen­ter for 22 years, mak­ing signs and ban­ners for busi­nesses and peo­ple in the com­mu­nity. Owner Deb­o­rah Hy­man, 63, wants to make ren­o­va­tions to her shop, but she, too, is wait­ing for an of­fer from the state.

“I can hon­estly say the state is do­ing us all a dis­ser­vice be­cause we can­not make any fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions. We can­not de­cide to make any ren­o­va­tions to our stores … be­cause if we choose to do that, then it could be to­mor­row that we get the let­ter that says you have six months to move,” Hy­man said ear­lier this month. “That af­fects our busi­ness be­cause my place is get­ting worn down and I’m not go­ing to put money into it if I’m go­ing to move.”

While prop­erty ac­qui­si­tions in any state project put pres­sure on busi­ness and home­own­ers, Sandy Ar­nette, spokes­woman for the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion, said that it’s an im­por­tant step in any con­struc­tion project.

“Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion care­fully fol­lows all fed­eral and state laws and of­fers fair mar­ket val­ues dur­ing prop­erty ac­qui­si­tions. We also work closely with all prop­erty own­ers to en­sure they are treated in a fair and eq­ui­table man­ner,” Ar­nette said.

But Hy­man said she doesn’t know where she will move. Signs by To­mor­row must stay in Sil­ver Spring in or­der to ful­fill Hy­man’s agree­ment as an owner of the fran­chise flag­ship, and the area has be­come a hotspot for busi­nesses, mak­ing re­tail space hard to find.

Hy­man also said neigh­bors to the shop­ping cen­ter will now have fewer choices when it comes to food, since restau­rants like Spring Gar­den and El Aquila will also be dis­placed.

The shop­ping cen­ter has a to­tal of 20 busi­nesses, in­clud­ing Dol­lar Power, Jerry’s Subs, Spring Dis­count Beer and Wine, SS Pack­age and Ship­ping, 7-Eleven, Fa­mous Pawn­bro­kers, Kessler’s Dry Clean, Cameron’s Seafood, a beauty sup­ply store and a laun­dro­mat.

Hy­man says de­spite the im­pact on her busi­ness, she sees the pos­i­tives of the Pur­ple Line.

The Pur­ple Line will con­nect to the red, green and the or­ange Metro lines, as well as all three MARC Train lines and Am­trak. The light rail is also pro­jected to cre­ate more than 23,000 jobs within the state over six years, and in­crease ac­cess to ma­jor job cen­ters, in­clud­ing the Univer­sity of Mary­land, Col­lege Park; down­town Sil­ver Spring; and down­town Bethesda, ac­cord­ing to the Ho­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“I just don’t think the re­tail as­pect of this en­deavor is be­ing ad­dressed, be­cause we’re too small. We can’t have a voice, be­cause we can’t pay for some­body to be our voice,” Hy­man said.

Hy­man has been work­ing closely with a right-of-way spe­cial­ist from Di­ver­si­fied Prop­erty Ser­vices, which has been ap­proved by the tran­sit ad­min­is­tra­tion to ap­praise her space. This is the only way she can get the promised money from the state for re­lo­cat­ing.

The max­i­mum busi­ness own­ers can get to reestab- lish their busi­nesses at a new site is $60,000, ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Re­lo­ca­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram brochure. Hy­man says it’s not enough to cover costs to reestab­lish her busi­ness.

The Spring Cen­ter busi­nesses are not the only ones that are wor­ried.

Car­los Perozo, pres­i­dent of the Long Branch Busi­ness League, said that when own­ers of Long Branch busi­nesses — on Flower Av­enue, Piney Branch Road, Univer­sity Boule­vard and Arliss Street — learned about the Pur­ple Line com­ing to their area, they re­acted as if the sky was fall­ing.

Perozo said the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion gave a pre­sen­ta­tion to the league last year, ex­plain­ing how the project was go­ing to af­fect their com­mu­nity.

A tun­nel for the light rail would run un­der Wayne Av­enue and an en­trance would be cre­ated for a new light rail sta­tion, Long Branch, which will be lo­cated on Arliss Street, and an­other nearby sta­tion, Dale Drive. That means con­struc­tion could take place on Arliss Street and head west on Flower Av­enue for a cou­ple of years, likely caus­ing con­ges­tion on the streets lead­ing up to nearby busi­nesses.

Perozo, who owns ZP Tax on Flower Av­enue, said the busi­ness league re­searched the ef­fects of sim­i­lar trans­porta­tion projects that have hap­pened around the coun­try. They found that in ad­di­tion to con­struc­tion de­ter­ring cus­tomers from pa­tron­iz­ing their busi­nesses, it was likely that the Pur­ple Line would in­crease the cost of rent for nearby homes, apart­ments and busi­nesses, Perozo said.

Soon after, Perozo and 42 other busi­ness own­ers joined the Pur­ple Line Com­pact, a coali­tion fo­cused on cre­at­ing di­a­logue and com­mu­ni­ca­tion among stake­hold­ers in the tran­sit project and the com­mu­nity.

“We don’t want dis­place­ments. We don’t want rent to come up,” Perozo said. “We asked for in­clu­sion for a higher per­cent­age of af­ford­able hous­ing.”

Perozo, orig­i­nally from Venezuela, said that at a neigh­bor­hood block party hosted last year by the Long Branch Busi­ness League, he found that more than 20 coun­tries were rep­re­sented within the Sil­ver Spring neigh­bor­hood. With peo­ple from the Philip­pines, In­dia, Korea, China and the Do­mini­can Repub­lic — half of them own­ing restau­rants in the area — Perozo said he fears that the Pur­ple Line will bring gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, and with it in­creased costs of liv­ing and do­ing busi­ness for hard-work­ing im­mi­grants in the area.

Ac­cord­ing to the 2010 U.S. Cen­sus, 27 per­cent of Long Branch’s pop­u­la­tion are African-Amer­i­can, 5 per­cent are Asian and 29 per­cent are His­panic. Fif­teen per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion de­fine them­selves as “other,” and the re­main­der are Cau­casian.

Del. Ana Sol Gu­tier­rez (D-Mont­gomery) a pro­po­nent of the Pur­ple Line, said she be­lieves that ris­ing costs of liv­ing and prop­erty val­ues are in­evitable.

“I think that’s def­i­nitely something that hap­pens any time there is devel­op­ment around trans­porta­tion,” Gu­tier­rez said. “We’ve seen it in Ball­ston, Vir­ginia, and in Wheaton, Mary­land.”

But Gu­tier­rez said the pos­si­ble rise in costs as a re­sult of the new tran­sit line is not a “Pur­ple Line prob­lem” — it’s a prob­lem of af­ford­able hous­ing. Gu­tier­rez said that she would urge lo­cal gov­ern­ments to pri­or­i­tize a study on what the op­tions are for peo­ple be­ing priced out of the area.

Oth­er­wise, Gu­tier­rez said she sees the Pur­ple Line as “a so­cial jus­tice win-win,” es­pe­cially when she thinks of the thou­sands of peo­ple that have to take one, two or three buses to get to work. The Pur­ple Line will help lessen the com­mute time and ef­fort.

Con­nect­ing Bethesda to New Car­roll­ton, the light rail is pro­jected to see as many as 74,000 to­tal daily rid­ers by 2040, ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion. The Pur­ple Line will es­pe­cially work in fa­vor of a large seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion who are low-in­come, par­tic­u­larly Lati­nos or im­mi­grants who don’t have ac­cess to fast, re­li­able trans­porta­tion to go to and from jobs, Gu­tier­rez said.

As a lo­cal busi­ness owner in the metropoli­tan area, op­ti­cian Nel­son re­al­izes the need for pub­lic tran­sit, but the third time’s a charm. His 50-year-old busi­ness has been re­lo­cated twice be­fore while he ran his busi­ness in Wash­ing­ton. After the sec­ond time, he de­cided on Sil­ver Spring in hopes of set­tling there for good.

Now, Nel­son said re­cently, he is ready to sur­ren­der and will re­tire as soon as the state gives him an of­fer. The sooner, the bet­ter, he said, but he fears more de­lays.

“Each time we get to something hap­pen­ing, there’s al­ways something that stops it,” Nel­son said. “It takes them so long to get the right-of-ways and deal with all the peo­ple protest­ing it — that’s what runs the cost up on these projects.”

But progress is hap­pen­ing. The Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion se­lected Pur­ple Line Tran­sit Part­ners, con­sist­ing of Fluor En­ter­prises Inc., Meridiam In­fra­struc­ture and Star Amer­ica Fund, in early March to de­sign, op­er­ate, fi­nance and main­tain the Pur­ple Line.

The $5.6 bil­lion con­tract for the tran­sit line was ap­proved by the state Board of Pub­lic Works on April 6. Con­struc­tion could be­gin as early as later this year with the light rail op­er­at­ing start­ing in spring 2022.

Un­til Nel­son sees it in writ­ing, he’s play­ing a wait­ing game, he said.

“I’m just here mark­ing time. You can’t in­vest in a busi­ness while you’re wait­ing,” Nel­son said.

Op­ti­cian Del­mar Nel­son has owned Crest Op­ti­cians for 50 years. If Pur­ple Line plans fall through, this will be his third time re­lo­cat­ing for a cap­i­tal project.

PHOTOS COUR­TESY OF CAP­I­TAL NEWS SER­VICE/BRIT­TANY BRITTO

Deb­o­rah Hy­man, the 63-year-old owner of Signs by To­mor­row in Sil­ver Spring, re­ceived no­tice years ago that plans for the Pur­ple Line would re­quire her to re­lo­cate her busi­ness. But with lit­tle re­tail space left in Sil­ver Spring, Hy­man is not sure where she will move.

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