Which would win in a fight? A wooden fence or a light rail transit vehicle capable of hurtling down the line at 65 miles per hour? Well, if you go by the results of a recent court case from Maryland, the fence would — and has.
On the last day of 2014, Circuit Court Judge Gary Bair ruled that Ajay Bhatt, a Chevy Chase man who built a backyard fence in the potential path of a controversial rail line, could not only keep the fence, but that he technically could claim ownership of the land.
The whole debacle began when Wayne Phyillaier, a longtime advocate of the controversial Purple Line Project, complained about the fence, which then of course prompted a county investigation. Bhatt was fined $500 in May of 2013, and appealed the case.
In January 2014, the $500 fine was suspended, but a District Court judge ruled that Bhatt had buil the fence illegally in the county’s right of way, as the fence does get in the way of the Purple Line’s planned path.
The reason the case has drawn so much attention is because of Bhatt’s outspoken opposition to the planned rail system. He leads the Chevy Chase-based nonprofit Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, which has filed suit against all levels of government agencies over environmental concerns regarding the light rail.
The county had bought the former railroad right-of-way in 1988, and converted it into the Capital Crescent Trail with their plans to someday use the land for a transit system. However, a real estate lawyer testified that the 1890 deed from a previous property owner to the railroad company didn’t convey right-of-way, which means that when the county took over in the 80s, no right-of-way was transferred.
Ultimately, Bair ruled that Montgomery County failed to prove that the land inside of the fence was in its right-of-way, and that Bhatt could claim the land as his own under an “adverse possession” rule, which meant the land would be his even if the county could somehow eventually prove its right-of-way.
Whether or not the Purple Line does someday get built, it’s a good thing Bhatt has his fence, because if it does someday run through the park, he’ll need it as a sound barrier. But for now, the fence has won.