Riverdale Park officials want to transform a shuttered gas station and auto body shop on U.S. Route 1 into a public park, and are willing to go to court to get the property.
At the council’s April 1 meeting, members passed an ordinance giving permission for town officials to take the owners of the site, which is almost half of an acre and sits at 5731 Baltimore Ave., to court to acquire the property.
The site — owned by Jeyakody Edward and his wife, Suprabha Edward, of Silver Spring since 1986 — had a gas station and auto body shop until 2005. Town officials said the property has sat vacant since then, with little action taken to use the property to fit the site’s mixed-use town center zoning.
“What we are going to do is turn this into a park with public art to mark the south end of town,” Mayor Vernon Archer said. “We want something that says, ‘Welcome to somewhere; we are someplace special.’”
The owners’ son, Sujey Edward, 37, disagreed, saying the family has spent a substantial amount of money on architecture firms and attorneys for business proposals that town officials rejected.
Edward said his parents have previously suggested building a gas station and a Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant, and are currently working on a plan to build a convenience store.
Town officials said the suggestions were rejected because the mixed-use town center zoning does not permit a gas station or fast food restaurant. Archer said the convenience store could meet the requirements, but the town would prefer something that enhances the site’s appearance.
“The bottom line is that it needs to say something and needs to grab the attention of someone coming in,” he said, noting that public parks are permitted under the zoning.
Archer said the town wants to take over the property through eminent domain, the process in which a government can acquire private land for public use through a court process that determines how much the government must pay the owner for the land. Archer said he and town staff determined the eminent domain route may be cheaper than trying to purchase it through negotiations because the owners could try to drive up the price.
Archer said in December, the town offered the owners $500,000 for the property, which was rejected.
Joseph Suntum, the property owners’ attorney, said the site is worth significantly more than what the town offered. He declined to say how much he thought the property is worth due to possible litigation, but said the town’s offer was low.
“The question is whether the town realizes it is low or does not have a proper understanding of the value,” Suntum said.
Archer said the offer of $500,000 was based on an independent appraisal.
“The town just deserves better, and we have a right to deserve better,” he said.
Resident Marita Novicky, who said she has lived in the town for more than 10 years, said even when there was a business at the site, it was still an eyesore.
“I think that a public park right on the corner that features local art makes a wonderful statement for us,” she said.