- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

A Montgomery County residents group yesterday accused a developer and builders of following their own — not the county’s — plans for a development in Clarksburg in violation of county law.

“The developer tracked to their map,” Amy Presley, co-chairwoman of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee, told the county Planning Board during a seven-hour hearing.

The Planning Board opened hearings into charges of building code violations at Clarksburg, where a 14,000-home development is planned. The board is to decide whether planners or builders are at fault for making major construction changes without public notice or board approval.

Board commissioners yesterday found developer Newland Communities of San Diego guilty of providing inadequate parks, open spaces, bicycle trails and other amenities. Sanctions against the developer will be determined after a hearing next month.

In July, the Planning Board found that more than 500 homes had been built too high or too close to the street. These violations were uncovered by the Clarksburg advisory committee.

The residents group said builders and Newland ignored specifications set forth in legally binding site plans under laissez-faire management by county planners.

“These folks have broken the law, and we’re looking to you to correct it,” Mrs. Presley told the Planning Board yesterday. “I’m asking you to do the right thing today and start to change this climate.”

One planning commissioner pledged to do so.

“The board needs to carry out its duties in a different way from in the past,” Meredith K. Wellington said.

At the end of the hearing, board Vice Chairwoman Wendy C. Perdue and Commissioner John Robinson pushed for a more comprehensive review of problems in Clarksburg.

Board Chairman Derick P. Berlage said the next scheduled hearing, on Oct. 25, is “flexible.”

The board had tried to limit the hearing yesterday to a discussion of affordable housing units and amenities in Clarksburg, but members of the advisory committee switched the focus to their accusation that 70 percent of the Clarksburg Town Center has been constructed illegally.

Newland attorneys said they lacked specific information from the advisory committee and it was unfair to make accusations without giving the developer time to respond.

“This is the very first day … that we have seen these sites or these specific sections of the law,” Newland attorney Steven Kaufman told the board after Mrs. Presley’s presentation.

Mr. Kaufman backed off that statement after he was shown a letter in which the advisory committee provided specific portions of county zoning law to his associate, Todd Brown, who has worked on Clarksburg Town Center since 2000.

Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Brown work for the area’s largest land-use law firm, Linowes and Blocher.

Mrs. Presley said her group has provided all the information it has and has waited for more information from Planning Board staff since last month.

The Department of Park and Planning, which provides staffing for the Planning Board, has reported that former staffer Wynn Witthans falsified a site plan last fall to cover up the height and setback violations in Clarksburg.

Ms. Witthans has resigned, and Park and Planning Director Charles E. Loehr will resign at the end of this month.

The county inspector general, state special prosecutor and County Council staff are conducting separate investigations.

Early in the hearing yesterday, Mr. Berlage rebuked advisory committee members for talking during a staff presentation.

Carol Smith, a committee co-chairwoman, asked: “Who represents the homeowners, the highly taxed taxpayers? Isn’t it you, the Planning Board? Where does your check come from? Has integrity become politically incorrect?”

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