By Howard R. Fletcher, Jr.
CHEVY CHASE, MARYLAND – Jim Roy not only spends his days trying to sell property at his real estate firm in Chevy Chase, he is also passionately trying to save it.
Roy is the principal broker of LuxManor Real Estate, Inc. and the Vice President of Friends of The Capital Crescent Trail (FCCT), which according to its website, is a “non-profit dedicated to saving the Trail as a world-class linear park.”
“We’re all volunteers who are just trying to make sure that the government follows its own laws,” said Roy of FCCT’s efforts to challenge the construction of Metro’s Purple Line. “We are just trying to get the truth out there.”
Roy moved to the Washington, D.C. in 1998. He spent the two previous years working for the Peace Corps as a Small Business Development Advisor in Benin, West Africa.
“My life has changed to allow me to speak French, understand how a large number of the poorest people in the world live, work within a vastly different culture and truly communicate with people from all walks of life,” Roy said of his time with the Peace Corps. “I went to Africa to teach, but found that I learned a great deal about the world and myself.”
He purchased a house in his current neighborhood in Chevy Chase, MD in 2004. Roy said that he liked its proximity to his Bethesda office, but it was the foliage and landscape of the community that had the greatest effect on him and his wife.
“It was the access to the Capital Crescent Trail, access to a park, it’s just a great location,” said Roy. “Plus, eventually, I knew I was going to have kids and I wanted those things for them.”
Roy became an active participant in neighborhood organizations from the start, joining FCCT in 2010. Roy said he was concerned about the harm to the environment the construction of the Purple Line could cause. He wanted to do everything he could to save the trail and surrounding trees.
“I was bothered by the misinformation that the public was being given in the media about the Purple Line and what it would take to build it,” said Roy.
He was voted onto the Board of FCCT within two years.
His involvement with FCCT led to his attendance at informational meetings around Montgomery and Prince George’s County where the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) showed mocked-up graphic images of a tree-lined trail next to the light rail.
“There were beautiful trees surrounding the trail and overhanging the trail, which can’t happen because the branches would be in the electrical wires,” said Roy. “The depictions early on were so wildly impossible.”
FCCT and two private residents of the Town of Chevy Chase filed a lawsuit in an effort to halt construction of the trail in 2014, according to reporting by Bethesda Magazine. However, they have been running into problems.
“We had a court decision last summer that said that you (MTA) didn’t do your environmental impact statement correctly, you need to go create a supplemental environmental impact statement,” explained Roy. “But instead of the government doing that, they went to the next court up and vacated the decision.”
MTA successfully got the ruling thrown out “without a trial” in order to get the $900M from the federal government to start the project, said Roy, adding, “I don’t see how that was possible.”
The plaintiffs filed another suit in September that raises new issues, including specific concerns about construction along the Georgetown Branch Trail and Metro’s financial situation.
“The whole point of our lawsuit is that the steps were not taken properly, the money is not there – as far as existing infrastructure. There is a statute that requires Metro to have funding for existing infrastructure before starting work on something new.”
Roy says he believes that Metro cannot successfully or accurately present financial numbers to support enlarging the system.
“Our metro system is collapsing, it’s absolutely collapsing right now,” said Roy. “Why would we sink money into a system whose ridership numbers are absolutely suspect?”
Earlier this month, Roy helped spearhead an effort to invite the Town of Chevy Chase to join FCCT in their lawsuit and help finance their efforts with a $50,000 grant. The town council denied the request as a matter of policy.
The town has taken a stance of mitigation rather than opposition to the Purple Line, said Mayor Mary Flynn.
“Jim [Roy] is well respected and admired,” said councilperson Joel Rubin. “He’s a responsible community activist who cares deeply about the town and the environment.”
The opposition to the Purple Line is not without its share of criticism. The Action Committee for Transit (ACT) characterizes the movement to save the trail on their website as a myth.
ACT writes, “opponents of the project have adopted the deceptive tactic of disguising themselves as supporters of hiker-biker trails and misleading the public about what the Purple Line will do to trails.”
The president and two vice presidents of ACT, who were listed as media contacts, did not answer inquiries for further comment as of the writing of this article.
Roy said that he is not familiar with ACT, or their attempts to discredit the sincerity of FCCT’s mission.
He says his purpose for being active in the community and FCCT is to inform the public about rushed decisions that are being made that will have a harmful effect on their lives and the welfare of the community, not only now but in the long-term.
“Within a few questions, I can usually show people how it (Purple Line) is not a good idea at all,” said Roy. “They never take into account the costs involved: the actual cost of building it, the cost of running it, and it’s not at all self-sufficient. We, the county nor the state, cannot go into debt like the country can. We cannot print money. To pay for this, we are either going to have to cut services or raise taxes, neither of which are a great option.”
A three-member panel of judges reviewed the latest suit filed by FTTC on November 1st and agreed that nothing in expert reports submitted by opponents of the line in the legal case was actually new, as required to prompt an additional environmental review, and instead the court was being asked to simply reconsider the wisdom of construction.
Therefore, construction on the Purple Line will continue, according to reporting by WTOP.com.
If there are no additional delays, the light rail line and a rebuilt trail alongside it are due to open by summer 2022.