Montgomery, Prince George’s, institutions sign Purple Line agreement

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett signs an agreement with goals of economic and social development in the communities that will be connected by the Purple Line. (Photo by Hannah Monicken)

An agreement signed Tuesday by local authorities aims to foster economic and social development across the communities where the new Purple Line light rail will run — from New Carrollton in Prince George’s County to Bethesda in Montgomery County, with 19 stops in between.

“Even if you are against the Purple Line, you should be for this agreement,” said Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett who, along with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, University of Maryland President Wallace Loh and others, inked the pact.

The agreement, which is not legally binding, lays out four chief goals: To help support businesses that may be hurt during construction, improve job training in the area, ensure there will be housing available to people of all incomes and create “vibrant and sustainable communities.”

The coalition supporting the accord represents a large swath of local governments, advocacy groups, nonprofits and regional institutions. This agreement has been in the works since 2014 when those organizations and governments started to work out how to both take advantage of the opportunities the line could provide and address concerns.

“One of the fundamental objectives of the Purple Line was to create economic opportunity and the issue is, will that economic opportunity be a shared prosperity?” said Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner. “And this agreement’s purpose is to ensure it is shared.”

Berliner said the council’s role in implementing the agreement’s goals revolves around land use, zoning and job training. He also pointed to the county’s mechanism for reimbursing local businesses that lose profits due to county construction, which was put into place for the redevelopment of Wheaton. Berliner said he brought that program to Annapolis for legislators to use as a model statewide.

Another concern, according to Maggie Haslam, spokeswoman for the National Center for Smart Growth, which has been coordinating the agreement, is the likelihood of gentrification near new transit stops pricing out current residents and disrupting neighborhoods.

Gentrification is the issue that got Jews United for Justice involved, said Rebecca Ennen, the group’s deputy director. The organization is a member of Purple Line NOW, one of the groups endorsing Tuesday’s agreement.

“It was kind of a no-brainer that this thing should be built in the first place,” Ennen said, “but we wanted to ensure it fulfilled its promise to lower-income, minority and immigrant communities, that they wouldn’t be immediately gentrified out of their neighborhoods.”

Plans call for the line to open in five years. Meanwhile, coalition members will be working on including affordable housing, mitigating major housing market disruptions, increasing job training and opportunities, and preserving neighborhood cultures.

“In a way, the hardest part has been done but, really, the work has only just begun,” Haslam said.

At the signing, Baker pointed to the Washington U Street neighborhood before it became the trendy neighborhood of today. He worked in a community development nonprofit organization there in the 1970s, he said, where people tried — and, he believed, failed — to protect the integrity of the neighborhood and its longtime residents.

“What was missing there was what we have here today,” he said.

And that’s why this agreement is an important step in making the purple line successful, said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a longtime supporter of the project.

“I think great transportation systems require an economic and social component,” he said. “Part of the problem we have with the Metro today is that it has so few defenders.”

The agreement and coalition of supporters give communities and those affected a way to be heard and shape the implementation of the project, he said.

The Purple Line is moving forward again after legal challenges by opponents, who say the line’s benefits have been overstated and its environmental impact could be negative. The groundbreaking took place in August after an appellate judge cleared the way for construction to start, even while legal appeals were underway.

The line is estimated to cost about $2 billion, with nearly half of that in federal funds. Although it’s called the Purple Line, it won’t be a part of Metro’s subway system, but is a light rail train line owned by the State of Maryland.

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