Town of Chevy Chase residents can weigh in Thursday evening on whether the town should donate $50,000 to the trail group Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail.
The group is requesting the money to help defray legal costs piling up from its ongoing federal lawsuits to try to stop the light-rail project, according to the request sent to the council.
The five-member town council previously voted 3-2 on Oct. 2 against having a public hearing for the grant request, with Mayor Mary Flynn and council members Cecily Baskir and Barney Rush opposing the idea. Council members Joel Rubin and Scott Fosler voted to have the public hearing.
However, the council later decided over emails to hold a public hearing on the matter after receiving an opinion from the town attorney. The hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Town Hall.
The council discussed the grant at its meeting Oct. 2. The three council members who opposed the hearing on the grant said providing money to help the legal effort likely would generate public “perception issues” and represent a shift in the town’s policy regarding the Purple Line.
The town has been criticized for its years-long effort to oppose the 16.2-mile light-rail line, part of which will run along the town’s northern border on the Georgetown Branch right-of-way.
However, the town backed off its outright opposition and shifted in 2015 to a strategy to promote mitigation efforts to lessen the line’s impact on residents’ lives and homes.
The council members who opposed the proposal said providing the $50,000 likely would send a message to the public that the town was opposing the project again. The two lawsuits filed on behalf of the trail group and two other town residents sought to stop construction of the project.
“It’s not just a matter of perception,” Rush said during the meeting, according to an audio recording on the town’s website. “It will be seen by others that we’re joining efforts to stop the Purple Line. It would have very negative consequences in our town.”
Rubin said supporting the lawsuit could give the town additional leverage when dealing with state officials and the state’s contractor, Purple Line Transit Partners, on future mitigation efforts.
A group of town residents is emerging to oppose the grant. Resident Donald Farren wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat that he is helping to organize the town’s pro-Purple Line group to oppose the effort.
Farren wrote in an email to the council that holding the hearing would allow the trail group to rile up the emotions of the residents and possibly enable the group to spread false information about the Purple Line. He also wrote that the two lawsuits by the trail group are “highly unlikely to succeed.”
Ajay Bhatt, president of the trail group, did not immediately respond to a voice-mail Monday afternoon requesting comment.
One lawsuit centers on whether Metro’s ridership decline and safety issues would affect ridership on the Purple Line. It’s scheduled for oral arguments in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 1. The appeals court already granted a stay in the case that allowed $900 million in federal funds to be secured for the project and construction to begin.
The other lawsuit questions whether the federal government properly approved the funding agreement for the project. Last month, Judge Richard Leon declined to grant a temporary injunction in that case to prevent trees from being cut down on the Georgetown Branch Trail.