Metro board panel threat­ens to de­lay land swap needed for Pur­ple Line over ‘fair com­pen­sa­tion’

Mem­bers want new talks with state to seek more money for ex­change

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY MAR­TINE POW­ERS mar­tine.pow­ers@wash­post.com

A Metro board com­mit­tee voted Thurs­day on an 11th-hour mea­sure that could de­lay a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar land trans­fer crit­i­cal to the construction of Mary­land’s light-rail Pur­ple Line.

Metro is ex­pected to hand over to Mary­land the land rights to prop­er­ties at New Car­roll­ton, Col­lege Park and Sil­ver Spring Metro sta­tions so Pur­ple Line work crews can be­gin construction. The prop­er­ties are val­ued between $24 mil­lion and $37 mil­lion.

Mary­land wants the rights to those sta­tions in ex­change for a 450-space state-owned park­ing lot and a plot of state land, val­ued to­gether at $17.1 mil­lion.

But Thurs­day, mem­bers of the board’s cap­i­tal plan­ning and real es­tate com­mit­tee said they’re con­cerned that Metro is be­ing un­der­paid in the ex­change. In a sur­prise move, the com­mit­tee passed a sub­sti­tute res­o­lu­tion that gives ten­ta­tive ap­proval for the trans­fer of prop­erty rights — but only if of­fi­cials from Metro and Mary­land en­ter ne­go­ti­a­tions and come up with a new fig­ure for “fair com­pen­sa­tion” on the ex­change.

The new res­o­lu­tion man­dates that an agree­ment on fair com­pen­sa­tion be de­cided by the end of De­cem­ber. It will go to a fi­nal vote be­fore the full board in two weeks. Mary­land is sched­uled to be­gin construction work at Col­lege Park sta­tion in early Novem­ber.

“No one ar­gues that the Pur­ple Line is a bad project. It’s a very good project, and peo­ple are very ex­cited about it,” board mem­ber Paul Smed­berg said. “But given the fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, we want to make sure that we’re fairly com­pen­sated.”

“We’ll do what we can to help our part­ners” build­ing the Pur­ple Line, said Steve McMillin, the newly ap­pointed chair­man of the com­mit­tee, “but [Metro] has in­ter­ests to pro­tect, and we as board mem­bers have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect them.”

Board mem­ber Robert Lauby said the cur­rent deal failed to ac­count for the fu­ture po­ten­tial value of the prop­erty — par­tic­u­larly if de­vel­op­ers wanted to pay for the rights to build above the sta­tion.

“It seems to me that we don’t have a full as­sess­ment of what the cost is, and that’s a lit­tle dis­turb­ing,” Lauby said. “It’s non-rev­enue pro­duc­ing land now, but is it al­ways go­ing to be? . . . We need to take a good hard look and un­der­stand what ex­actly we’re trans­fer­ring here.”

No­tably ab­sent from the meet­ing: board mem­bers Cor­bett Price and Jack Evans, who said Wed­nes­day that they would veto the land-trans­fer pro­posal — sched­uled for a fi­nal vote in two weeks — for an un­re­lated rea­son. They want to use the prop­er­tyrights is­sue as a bar­gain­ing chip in ex­change for Mary­land’s sup­port for their pro­posal to re­struc­ture the board.

Board mem­bers’ con­cerns about the fair­ness of the swap came de­spite Gen­eral Man­ager Paul J. Wiede­feld’s rec­om­men­da­tion that the board ap­prove it, cit­ing the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits the 16-mile light-rail line would bring Metro — namely more rid­ers.

“To me, it makes a lot of sense that we move for­ward with this as quickly as pos­si­ble, for the sake of our re­gion and for our rid­ers,” Wiede­feld said.

Mary­land rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the board, par­tic­u­larly Michael Gold­man and Malcolm Au­gus­tine, ex­pressed out­rage that their col­leagues would put the project at risk. Gold­man sug­gested that other board mem­bers were try­ing to nickel-and-dime the state of Mary­land and that Metro’s real es­tate ex­perts failed to take into ac­count the many ways that Mary­land pro­vides fi­nan­cial and in­fra­struc­ture sup­port to Metro.

Au­gus­tine said the last-minute at­tempts to rene­go­ti­ate the land ex­change could put more ob­sta­cles in front of com­ple­tion of the Pur­ple Line.

“It takes nerve for Metro to ask for money back for land that came from the state of Mary­land,” Au­gus­tine said. “I find that a lit­tle tough to take.”

“There have been tremen­dous road­blocks that have oc­curred,” he added. “I would re­ally hate for Metro to be­come an­other one of those road­blocks.”

Af­ter the meet­ing McMillin ac­knowl­edged that it’s pos­si­ble that the board’s de­ci­sion could re­sult in a de­lay for the project. But ul­ti­mately, he said, as a Metro board mem­ber, it’s not his job to worry about that.

“We are try­ing to act ex­pe­di­tiously . . . but we are not re­spon­si­ble for the time­line for man­ag­ing this par­tic­u­lar project,” he said.

“I don’t know when they thought they would get th­ese types of ques­tions con­sid­ered, vet­ted and de­bated,” McMillin added, “but pre­sum­ably when you’re man­ag­ing a project, you try to do that well be­fore the be­gin­ning of construction.”

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