- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2005

A Bethesda citizens group says its has found building-height violations among half of the luxury town houses built in a 28-unit development that was overseen by the same Montgomery County planner who forged site plans in Clarksburg.

“It appears that we have a situation … that is very similar, if not the same, as what has happened in Clarksburg,” said Allen Myers, president of the Maplewood Citizens Association and an official with the Federal Communications Commission. “It’s the identical same people, the identical same situation.”

A spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Park and Planning confirmed there are “inconsistencies” in the site plans for Goodwill, a 5-acre development on the west side of Route 355 near the National Institutes of Health.

“Clearly, those inconsistencies need to be resolved,” Park and Planning spokeswoman Nancy Lineman said.

Ms. Lineman could not be specific about the “inconsistencies,” but said the Planning Board will likely hold a hearing on the project next month.

Site plans for the Goodwill project show that the developer, Elm Street Development, would build no house higher than 30 feet, except for four units for low-income buyers, which could be built 31 feet high.

Mr. Myers said at least half of the town houses are higher than that.

He also said a cluster of older trees protected under site plans were cleared by developers without any formal amendment to the site plan.

County Council member Steve Silverman, the at-large Democrat who is running for county executive, said: “I’m very concerned if the situation in Clarksburg has been repeated in other places. But I want to reserve judgment until we get information from the Planning Board and outside agencies as to whether there is a systemic problem.”

David Flanagan, president of Elm Street Development, the developer at Goodwill, denied there are any height violations.

“I’m sure there’s no height violation. … We’ve had engineers check it,” Mr. Flanagan said. “There is no problem. There is no building height violation.”

The Goodwill development is much smaller than the Clarksburg Town Center, which is scheduled to include 1,300 homes when completed.

But documents show that both projects were overseen by former Park and Planning review officer Wynn Witthans.

Planning staff reported in June that Mrs. Witthans falsified plans last fall to cover up that Clarksburg developers had built hundreds of homes as high as 53 feet, in violation of height limits of 35 and 45 feet.

Mrs. Witthans, who worked at Park and Planning from 1983 to 1988 and from 1993 to this year, resigned in May, when her actions were discovered by the Planning Board. She is not accused of forging site plans for the Goodwill project.

Mr. Flanagan, who owns Elm Street Development, also owns Craftstar/Craftmark Homes, one of several builders at the Clarksburg project.

Meanwhile, the Montgomery County Civic Federation, a consortium of homeowner associations, has accused builders at the Vistas at Woodcliffe Park near Germantown of violating the county’s affordable-housing laws.

That project also was overseen by Mrs. Witthans.

Developers have not built 102 affordable-housing units there, as required, said Jim Humphrey, a member of the civic federation and of Neighbors for a Better Montgomery, which monitors financial support elected officials receive from developers.

Arcola Investment Associates, the developer at the Vistas, said it plans to build housing for the elderly, which would exempt it from the requirement to build affordable-housing units throughout the 714-home development.

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