An attorney representing Ourisman Honda said Wednesday the downtown Bethesda auto dealership plans to contest the county’s findings that its ongoing construction of a garage expansion is occurring in the county-owned Capital Crescent Trail right-of-way.
Robert Brewer of the Bethesda land-use law firm Lerch, Early, Brewer told the Montgomery County Board of Appeals that the company believes it has the right to build the garage, which appears to be near completion, on the Bethesda Avenue property where it is located. He said the company acquired the land in 1986 from CSX, but the railroad company kept three easements, including where the paved trail now exists. CSX later sold the rail line easement to Montgomery County in 1988 as part of the National Rails to Trails program and over time the trail was built.
Brewer said it would cost Ourisman hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to tear down the garage expansion at this point in the construction process.
The garage and wall next to the trail. Andrew Metcalf
The county’s Department of Permitting Services ordered in November that the dealership stop working on the garage after officials determined the property encroached on the county-owned Georgetown Branch easement area where the trail is located. Construction has since halted on the portion of the garage believed to be in the easement.
The expanded structure currently abuts the trail, with an approximately 10-foot-tall wall of cement blocks separating it from trail users near Bethesda Row.
Brewer asked the appeals board to reschedule its review of the Ourisman case until March or later. He said Ourisman’s civil engineer couldn’t attend the scheduled Feb. 22 hearing because he would be out of the country. Brewer also said Ourisman and the county may be able to reach a mutually agreeable solution to the issue that would make the appeal unnecessary.
“We’ve been discussing cordially, professionally, constructively a wide variety of possible resolutions and those discussions continue,” Brewer said in an interview after the hearing.
He also said the garage expansion doesn’t necessarily encroach on county property, although it appears to be very close to the trail. That’s because the portion of the trail next to the dealership was widened when the Lot 31 mixed-use project—which includes Pottery Barn, the restaurant Silver and two residential buildings—was built recently at the corner of Bethesda and Woodmont avenues, according to Brewer.
“What appears to be owned by the public and what appears to be owned by Ourisman is deceiving,” Brewer said.
A rear view of the garage. Andrew Metcalf