Design Template by Bikingtoronto

« Tuesday Morning Commute - Mr. Plow | Main | Tuesday Afternoon Commute - He should still go to jail »

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

At some point the state of MD needs to just declare that the railroad right of way is needed for an important public transportation corridor, compensate the (disputed) owners at a fair rate, and build the trail. The railway right of way is needed for efficient transport for an increasingly important mode, as well as for recreational and tourism purposes. Enough stalling already.

If they haven't paid taxes on the land since 1901 they have a problem.

@Greenbelt: MDOT staff tell me that existing legislation allows SHA to condemn land for motor highways but not for trails. I have not had time to verify the basis of that assertion. Clearly localities have the power to condemn land for trails, but as far as I know they rarely if ever do so, with the possible exception of obtaining full ownership when they have part ownership.

@Contrarian: Do you have anything to back up that assertion? Of course, if they had been sent a bill and failed to pay, they would be subject to a tax sale--but you seem to be making a different point, since there was clearly no tax sale.

By the way, if you are mainly trying to stretch for the best argument that the county could have made, one might pursue the argument that the right of way for "said road" does not limit the easement to the railway, because they meant the entire roadbed, not just the railway. I think that's a losing argument thought, because "said" means something one has already said.

Kelo v. New London. Bad law used for a good reason....done

Jim --

I'll amend my comment to say they "might have a problem." Without knowing the intricacies of AA County and MD tax law, plus the history of assessment and attempts to collect, it's impossible to say with certainty.

However, I'll say it's unlikely that the heirs of Buzz Meyers have an unencumbered title to the property simply because their great-grandmother owned it 85 years ago. Since she did not mention it in her will we have to look to Maryland estate law to see how it treats an intestate estate. That will determine the division among the descendants of Bertha Meyer, and will probably require a trip through the Meyer family tree. The heirs of Buzz may get a very small piece, or they may get nothing, if there is a time limit on how long an intestate estate can sit before it escheats to the county. Once the division is settled, then there is the issue of offsetting liabilities -- property tax, and also estate taxes potentially. Probably there will be dozens of heirs who will become co-owners of the property, and it is not inconceivable that many of them have no interest in keeping their share. The land does not sound like it can be divided, so any one of them can file a suit to force the property to be sold and the proceeds divided.

Now, this is all conjecture. To settle the matter definitively would require litigation. The Meyers family has no interest in litigating the matter because it would only expose how tenuous their claim is, and a definitive resolution would almost certainly result in the land being sold, legal bills and not much else. As it is, the Meyers' get the best of all possible worlds, where they enjoy the use and control of the land but pay no taxes on it.

What's clear to me is that AA County should assess the land for at least a million dollars and start trying to collect. That would bring the speediest resolution.

@COntrarian. I'll first address your second paragraph, which is similar to my argument. I realize that this is a pretty long post so you can not be expected to remember every detail, and I do appreciate your thoughts. But please note that my assertion is that the land is owned by the heirs of Jacob and Bertha Meyer, not Buz Meyer, who was one of (I think) 9 grandchildren. But he co-owned lot 6 with his brothers and together (I think) they had a 25% intestate interest. Most of his living first cousins were also still around the area, and probably generally supportive of his operations.

I didn't find a time limit for intestate interests in land, though I have not looked very hard. I think my penultimate paragraph speculated a bit on the same issue you are discussing: the county or a trail conservancy could attempt to acquire some of the interests and then negotiate a partition. Of course the threat of a judicial sale would be lurking behind such negotiations. Because most of descentants of Jacob and Bertha Meyer are still in the area, I think they would have alot more unity than in the typical case you are imagining. A judicial sale would be just as likely to result in the local Meyers buying out the out-of-state Meyers as the government buying the property. But a partition would be feasible if one of the buyers was a trail-building government agency.

We are basically in agreement on your last two paragraphs. The right of way is a valuable asset because the replacement cost of a roadway through wetlands is huge. Clearly, the decision by Janet Owens to cancel the proceedings that would have settled the title issue created a mess that must eventually be straightened out.

Unclear whether AA cares any more about collecting taxes owed than they do about wasting state money.

[raises hand]

Will this be on the exam? And which one is Whiteacre, again?

@MB: For extra credit: If the state of Maryland passed a statute requiring all possibilities of reverter created after 1899 to be recorded within 70 years of their creation, what does that imply about Contrarian's hypothesis that the Meyers' ownership interest in the railbed may have escheated to the government after all these years?

Think a Little,

Kelo v. New London is not really relevant here, as it applies specifically to economic development. The idea is that the state can claim that economic development is a "public purpose" and, let's say, take away your property and give it to Walmart.

This is standard eminent domain stuff: the compensated seizure of private property for a clear public purpose.

As a friend of the Meyer family, I applaud the research and conclusion that Mr Titus has conducted. This matches what the Meyer family has stated from Day 1 -- that the land still belongs to the Meyer family.

A couple of corrections:
1) the family (local and out-of-state), are all in agreement with keeping the land in the family.
2) the land in question has been actively used by the family over the past 70 years and has never been abandoned by the Meyer family. There has been no confusion or recent realization of this issue.

Based on this research and the supporting decisions of Anne Arundel County, the approved Northern path seems the best option to move forward with the completion of this project.

Ed, I think it's too early to say that. For one, I'd like the courts to weigh in on some of the items here. And even if the Meyers own the land, the Northern path is still not the best option. But I certainly hope the county starts sending them a tax bill for this land they own.

I would rather see the approved Northern path completed than have this issue debated in the courts for another 10, 20, or 30 years.

It is time to complete this project and enjoy the trail rather than waste more time, effort, and money on a path that probably will never happen.

The extensive research from Mr. Titus shows that the Meyer family owned the land before and after the railroad. It is time to move forward with all of our efforts to get this approved Northern path done.

I think you overestimate how long this would be in court.

The northern path will cost more money than one on the ROW.

Despite Jim's analysis, AA county thought they had a pretty good case for ownership and only backed off under political pressure. And even Jim isn't 100% sure if his analysis is right. I agree with Jim that a study is needed before anyone makes any decisions.

You've been opposed to running the trail on the Meyer land since the get go, so it's hard to believe that your concern is about getting a bad trail built quickly.

11 years have been wasted already. Jim proposes spending more years in courts and public hearings, possibly forcing the County to pay fair market value for land even Jim admits the Meyers own. Seems unlikely that will cost less than the approved Northern path.

At this point, it is time for Jim and the people of WashCycle to join the tens of thousands of citizens that support the approved Northern path.

So please, WahCycle, stop delaying this trail!

"tens of thousands of citizens that suppor the . . Northern path"? Can you cite a source for those numbers?

Ed,

Thanks for your kind comments on my report.

If Anne Arundel will use private and county funds for the entire cost of the bridge, then I think it is reasonable to proceed as you suggest.

There seems to have been a decision process that included alot of people from the immediate neighborhood, but neither the regional cycling community nor the residents that live along the trail in PG. That's fine if we are just talking about extending a trail to the water's edge through the Preserve at Two Rivers.

But if state and PG funds are going to be spent on a bridge, then basing the decision entirely on a neighborhood-oriented process is not satisfactory. The regional biking organizations (Bike Maryland and WABA) need to be on board before state trail funds are spent. And the PG area cyclists need to be on board before M-NCPPC commits significant funds.

Ed, I am still learning, and as I learn I'll communicate what I learn regardless of whether it bolster's my previous argument. It would be nice if someone would invite me over so that I can better understand your perspective.

In response to Purple Eagle, the tens of thousands of citizens are the people who have signed petitions over the years opposed to the ROW alernative trail. This is the "political pressure" that the WashCycle post before mine referred to. "Political pressure" just means lots of voters who care about all of the needs of the citizens and the land use.
The County listened to them which is why the Northern path is the approved path.

Jim, I thank for you for all of the research you have done on this issue. That was no small task. It helped clarify several points that have been endlessly debated for years, including the whole ownership issue. My guess is that the County came to the same conclusion years ago. A quickclaim deed is a matter of convenience; not a valid conveyance. As you stated, in most cases, the original land owners are long gone so this issue does not arise. That is not the case here. It seems that only the Railroad abandoned the property; not the Meyer family.
Based on these findings and the decisions by AA County, we could all gain by putting all of our collective efforts to getting the approved Northern trail built so that can this project can be completed sooner than later.

I look forward to walking from Piney Orchard to friends in Bowie on the new trail someday.

@Jim T
Thanks for continuing to pursue this and sharing what you have learned. I live in the PG side and would love to see this built. My preference is along the ROW. I would use the trail as much for transportation as recreation.

In addition to the increased construction cost of the Northern route, has anyone considered maintenance. My understanding this would be cutting through a wetlands area. How does trail infrastructure hold up in that environment. There are potentially high "life time" costs to be considered as well.

It seems that only the Railroad abandoned the property; not the Meyer family.

Actually, when the family stopped paying taxes on the land they abandoned it too. Using the land -- or thinkihg that you own it for matter -- does not grant you title to land. You have to pay your taxes to keep your land. If the Meyers are so all-fired determined to keep the land, they should probate their great-grandmother's estate, then pay three generations worth of estate taxes, federal and state, and 70 years worth of property taxes. Then they might have a claim.

Contrarian

No one ever claimed that the Meyers have not fully paid all taxes. Even Jim's article mentioned he did not know. That is a private issue for the Meyer family.

This type of remark, full of anger and hostile tone, but lacking in facts, has been too common and does not help resolve getting the trail completed.

I find myself largely agreeing with Ed Farmer about past taxes, and with Contrarian on future taxes.

As a point of clarification, the Maryland department of assessments and taxation shows Anne Arundel County as the owner of the right of way from Academy Junction to County Line who would be taxed, were it not exempt.

If the county is also sending a bill to the Meyers, then it should not show a single parcel going the whole distance, but instead it should show a subdivision. So clearly the electronic records that the state makes available do not show the Meyers as getting a tax bill for the right of way. But as Ed Farmer implies, the fact that it does not show up in the electronic records is not absolutely dispositive. The system might not be set up to bill both an easement holder and a land owner for the same parcel. But any resident of Maryland is entitled to ask the Department and receive an answer. (The state might not understand the unique value of the asset, however, and provide a relatively nominal assessment.)

As far as I know, no locality goes back more than a few years to correct erroneous tax bills--and AA might not go back more than the current year. If the county does not send you a bill, it's your lucky year (or decade). If property is owned as tenants-in-common which is the case here, the names on the tax bill are all the tenants in common, and the bill is sent to the address on file, and the owners sort it out among themselves who pays and how much.

As Contrarian implies, the longer the Meyers fail to correctly record these fractional interests, the more likely they will lose at least some fraction of the ownership. There is almost no doubt that Buz Meyer and his brothers owned the 1/6 interest that Joubert inherited from Jacob and Bertha Meyer. But who owns the 1/6 share that Otto Meyer inherited? That's harder to guess since he had remarried by the time he sold lot 6. The Meyers may know the answer today, but the next generation may not.

Jim,

Thanks for a reasonable response. Postings like Contrarian's -- which can be summed up as Tax them to death and drive them off the land -- probably do not help create a positive relationship with the Meyer family. I can understand their mis-trust when they read these hostile viewpoints.

I think the issue of property taxes is an issue to be resolved between the County and the Meyer family. Just as my property taxes are my concern and your property taxes are your concern.

Our focus should be on finding a solution to getting the trail completed. I see that PG County's WB&A Trail map now shows the Northern path to align with AA County's river crossing.
It looks like a reasonable solution is underway.

I never said "tax them to death." I merely said they should pay what they owe. How exactly is that hostile?

And I disagree that your taxes are solely your concern. By their very nature taxes are very much a public concern.

The Meyers family is trying to have it both ways -- taking the rights of property ownership without the responsibility.

Ed I am a fellow Piney Orchard resident who is familiar with Jim's work. I think the Meyers have a real chance to leave a historic legacy to our country in this situation.

Please email me at dave @ dasice dott com if you want to establish a dialog.

I doubt there are tens of thousands of people who wrote the county last decade when the Baltimore paper created a stink about this among hunters. A thousand would shock me.

And that was never about supporting the Northern path. It was about opposing the trail through hunting land. Those two are not equivalent. I can't imagine that there are even tens of thousands of people who know what the two options are - let alone who prefer one over the other.

11 years have been wasted, so the Meyers should just stop fighting the trail on the ROW. That is the fastest way to get the trail built right? If speed is your concern. I'm not the one delaying this trail, they are. It would be built by now, but for them. My focus is on finding a solution and the best one is for the Meyers to give up their claim in exchange for money/assurances.

Wow! Excellent posting and discussion.

Ed Farmer,

This isn't about just "getting the trail completed." It's about building a useful trail that will likely be one of the very few bicycle transportation facilities available in that area of Maryland. Unlike most citizens, bicyclists are aware that cycling is stunningly marginalized. Bicycle paths and lanes are few and far between and often disappear in spots where it is inconvenient to build them, such as in this case.

As a result, people like me often find themselves without a bike path or bike lane, on a road where motorists routinely exceed the speed limit, driving at lethal speeds. When that happens, I typically ride full speed to get out of that dangerous situation, hoping to not get killed. Well-designed roads are so common that motorists consider such roads unremarkable. For cyclists, the opposite is true. The few bike paths we have are routinely flawed and dangerous.

I have read your posts and understand that property rights are at stake in this case. I'd like you to understand that a significant public benefit, similar to that of the railroad, is also at stake.

People like me will fight for the best bike path we can get because we know we are not likely to get more than one bike path in that part of Maryland. We will fight as if our lives are at stake. Because, often, they are.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Banner design by creativecouchdesigns.com

City Paper's Best Local Bike Blog 2009

Categories

 Subscribe in a reader