- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A Montgomery County homeowners group said yesterday that the county unlawfully released a developer from building affordable housing in Bethesda, causing the county executive’s office to denounce the assertion.

Jim Humphrey, of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, said the county was required to force developer PN Hoffman to build affordable housing alongside 54 luxury condominiums in a Bethesda high-rise. The condos sold for $800,000 to $1 million in 2003.

However, David Weaver, a spokesman for County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, said Mr. Humphrey “is just plain wrong.”

Mr. Weaver said the county was getting a $400,000 or $500,00 piece of land in the 4900 block of Hampden Lane on which it would create housing for formerly homeless people.

Derick Berlage, chairman of the Montgomery County Planning Board, said there is no violation at the Edgemoor property in Bethesda, at 4821 Montgomery Lane.



Mr. Berlage said the law requiring affordable housing units to be built simultaneously does not apply when those units are “significantly different” from the regular units.

In addition, Steve Earle, president of PN Hoffman, has provided a November 2002 letter in which Elizabeth B. Davison, director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs, delayed affordable housing construction at Edgemoor to study “the feasibility” of the county building low-income housing.

The agency asked PN Hoffman to donate the land, and now the county’s Housing Opportunity Commission is going to build 12 low-income units on the site. The units will be efficiencies or one-bedroom condominiums.

However, Mr. Humphrey said a specific section of the county code — Section 25A-5(i) — does not allow deviation from building affordable housing simultaneously with regular housing.

Mr. Humphrey said the Montgomery County Department of Park and Planning did not enforce site-plan regulations, the same charge leveled in Clarksburg, where 535 homes were found in July to have been built either too high or too close to the street at the Clarksburg Town Center.

Wynn Witthans, a park and planning department staffer, was found in May to have altered site plans in the fall to hide the violations.

Mrs. Witthans has resigned, but the scandal at Clarksburg has cast intense scrutiny on the department, the planning board, and even on the majority of the County Council, which was elected on a pro-development ticket in 2004 and receives large amounts of campaign money from development interests.

Mr. Humphrey is collecting complaints about violations countywide and plans to present his findings to the press and the county government by the end of the month.

Other homeowners have charged that the planning department did not enforce affordable housing laws at the Kings Crossing in Boyds and that town houses at the Bethesda Crest development, on the former Goodwill property, have been built too high in violation of site-plan standards.

Mr. Humphrey said he was not squabbling over how to build affordable housing at the Edgemoor property or trying to prevent it.

“This is a disagreement over whether the developer should bear the burden to build these units or whether taxpayers should,” he said. “They will be built at taxpayer expense, and that’s wrong. …You and I are going to build this development instead of PN Hoffman.”

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