Residents lose decade-long land battle
Mar. 10, 1999

by Brian A. Gnatt

Staff Writer

March 10, 1999

Dallas Read has been growing azaleas and a magnolia tree in the garden behind her Chevy Chase home since Harry Truman was president.

But a Montgomery County jury ruled Feb. 26 that Read, 86, and other neighbors whose houses also back up to the Georgetown Branch Trail in Chevy Chase and Bethesda do not own the land they have been caring for ó some for more than 50 years.

After 10 years of court battles with the county spurred by a 1989 lawsuit filed by Read and her husband Nicholas, who died last year, the Circuit Court jury found Read and the 12 other homeowners are not entitled to the land under adverse possession laws.

"In each case, the jury found elements of adverse possession had not been satisfied," said Diane R. Schwartz Jones, the county attorney who defended Montgomery County in the suit.

Read said residents are considering an appeal and will make a decision next week.

The residents were fighting for ownership of portions of the right-of-way that runs behind their homes. They have been using the land as their own since moving into the neighborhood, Read said.

"Fifty years ago, we assumed everything was OK," Read said. "We didn't know we were on the right-of-way."

Homeowners involved in the suit live on Elm Street, Lynn Drive, Edgevail Court, Coquelin Terrace and Coqueline Terrace West in Chevy Chase and Kentbury Drive in Bethesda.

Since the homeowners had absorbed portions of the land for gardens and other purposes, and many had retained control of the property for more than the 20 years the law requires for ownership, they felt they were entitled to obtain full ownership of the land, Read said.

But the jury felt otherwise, and ruled none of the 13 homeowners is entitled to the land under adverse possession, a method used to obtain property by showing possession of the property has existed for 20 years.

The residents say the property lines drawn when Baltimore & Ohio Railroad trains ran along the right-of-way were not clear and the county inherited those lines when it purchased the property in 1988.

The property in question varies in each yard, ranging from 480 square feet to 4,374 square feet, Read said. In Read's yard, the section in question runs about nine feet into the right-of-way in one area.

The county does not want to give up the land ó partly because a proposed light rail commuter train between Bethesda and Silver Spring would run along the right-of-way.

If the light rail is built, the gardens and trees will likely be ripped up to accommodate the train and the trail.