- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2002

Ella and Edward Kohlheim decided to start their own day care business when their young son came home from the baby sitter's house with bad diaper rash.
That was 33 years ago.
Now they are afraid their hard work will go to waste. After a lengthy court battle and contentious litigation, Metro officials will take over a sizable chunk of their 3-acre property in Capitol Heights this afternoon.
Through the power of eminent domain, a government or a government entity such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has the right to take private property for public use with compensation for the owner.
In the Kohlheims' case, the back portion of their Central Child Development and Holly Park Day Care at 7310 Central Ave. is needed to construct an extension of the subway system's Blue Line to the Largo Town Center.
The Kohlheims, both 60, say they are being robbed of the American dream.
"We put our heart in here. We put our life in here," Mr. Kohlheim said, walking around the three buildings that make up his property. "All we see now is the big elephant coming in and taking what he wants away."
They will still have access to two of the buildings, but the Kohlheims are not sure how the loss of one building will affect their business. They have no immediate plans to close, but have laid off employees in anticipation of the downsizing they will face as a result of losing the rear three-story building, the largest of the three on the property. They estimate that half of the about 300 children in their care will be forced to go elsewhere.
Metro officials said they were left with no choice but to take the property by condemnation.
According to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation for Prince George's County, the entire property, which is divided into two sections, is worth $535,600.
Metro offered the Kohlheims $950,000 for the entire tract, even though it does not need it, and tried to help the family relocate.
"Would you sell your entire life for $950,000?" Mr. Kohlheim asked. The Kohlheims offered to sell the entire parcel for $8 million, but Metro declined. Eventually, Metro paid the Kohlheims $418,000 for only the land it needs.
Mr. Kohlheim said the efforts Metro made to help them relocate were not sufficient and would not allow them to keep their business at the same level it at is today because of its location as well as because of their ages.
Metro disagrees.
"We can successfully move a business without hurting the business, and we tried that here, but we did not even make it to first base," said Dutch Heinemeyer, assistant director of the office of property development and management for Metro.
Mr. Heinemeyer said he does not recall any business in the 10 years he has been working with Metro having gone under as a result of land acquisition. Furthermore, the federal charter that created Metro in 1976 does not allow it to consider the value of a business on the property, just the land itself, he said.
The Kohlheims' day care center started as a small business with just a few children of family friends in 1969. It has blossomed into a three-building complex with a staff of about 25 paid employees, plus volunteers who come after 2 p.m. to help with the children after school.
Children ages 2 to 14 attend the center for before- and after-school care, as well as all-day programs. Many of the children are from single-parent, low-income families. The center charges $115 per week for care.
In the 33 years it has been in operation, the center has never closed. The Kolheims have kept it functioning despite snowstorms and family health problems, including when their 10-year-old son, Tyrone, was diagnosed with cancer in 1979. Tyrone, who lost the lower part of his right leg as a result, works for his parents, driving a shuttle bus for children to and from school.
Metro officials say the difficult negotiations with the Kohlheims are not typical.
"This is probably the most contentious case I have been involved in," Mr. Heinemeyer said.
Metro began the expansion of the Blue Line last year and has been in negotiations with the Kohlheims for nearly 15 months. The amount of land it needs to excavate a tunnel, roughly an acre, cuts through the middle of the property and separates the front from the back.
Federal law gives Metro the authority to condemn property to extend the subway system if a sale price cannot be agreed to.
The sale is before the Prince George's County Land Commission a panel of retired judges to decide whether more money should be paid to the Kohlheims. In the meantime, federal marshals are expected to seize the designated property from Mr. Kohlheim this afternoon, and he has been ordered to remove all objects from inside the building.


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