- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Montgomery County Department of Park and Planning yesterday said it is not responsible for ensuring that affordable housing is built in accordance with site plans and county law.

“In general, Park and Planning has very little enforcement power over [affordable housing units] — this responsibility lies with the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA),” Park and Planning spokeswoman Nancy Lineman told The Washington Times.

However, Chris Anderson, who coordinates affordable housing for DHCA, contradicted Ms. Lineman.

“I’m assuming that somehow if [Park and Planning officials] approve 102 permits, and they sign off on each building unit, then I would assume that they track that those units were being built. That would make sense,” Mr. Anderson said.

The Times yesterday reported that a group of homeowner associations says builders have violated Montgomery County’s affordable-housing laws by not constructing 102 affordable units at a development near Germantown.

County Council member Steve Silverman yesterday said he asked Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage why no affordable-housing units have been built at the Vistas at Woodcliffe Park more than a year after the development was completed.

“This is a very unusual situation in that there is a development where we’re talking 10 years after it was approved and the [affordable-housing units] haven’t been built. That’s pretty unusual,” said Mr. Silverman, at-large Democrat.

Mr. Silverman said he spoke with Mr. Berlage and had called Steven A. Robins, attorney for Arcola Investment Associates, the master developer for the Vistas project.

Mr. Berlage did not return calls seeking comment.

Mr. Silverman said Mr. Berlage told him no waivers had been issued for building housing for seniors.

But Mr. Robbins said Arcola has found a builder, Premier Homes, willing to build housing for seniors that likely will be approved in October at a site-plan amendment hearing. He said Arcola’s intent from the start was to build affordable housing that was “marketable” and pleasing to the community.

County law requires that affordable housing be interspersed and built simultaneously with single-family homes and town houses. Housing for seniors usually is built after all other units.

Jim Humphrey, chairman of a homeowners association panel that monitors county planning, said builders often try to shirk their obligations to build affordable housing, which yields much lower profits than single-family homes.

Single-family homes at the Vistas sold for between $400,000 and $700,000.

Kevin Smart, spokesman for Premier Homes, did not return phone calls.

The Vistas project was overseen by Wynn Witthans, Montgomery County Planning Board staffer, who forged a site plan in Clarksburg last fall to cover up more than 500 building violations, a Planning Board report said.

Mrs. Witthans resigned in May after working for Park and Planning from 1983 to 1988, and then again starting in 1993, Ms. Lineman said.

Her actions — and the 535 homes built too high or too close to the street in Clarksburg — have scandalized the Planning Board.

The Montgomery County inspector general and the Maryland state special prosecutor are conducting separate investigations into Mrs. Witthans’ actions.

Ms. Lineman said Park and Planning is reviewing permits issued over the past two years but is not focusing on Mrs. Witthans’ involvement in developments.

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