- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2005

Montgomery County officials are re-evaluating how they make and record land-use plans in the wake of the building scandal in Clarksburg in the summer.

“We are scrubbing the regulatory process from top to bottom…. Everything is on the table,” Planning Board Chairman Derick P. Berlage said yesterday after a two-hour board meeting in Silver Spring.

Mr. Berlage met with other board members and planning staff to discuss an array of Clarksburg-inspired legislation drafted by the County Council.

The council “really got deep into the details, which is helpful because this legislation is going to be on the fast track,” said Michael E. Faden, the council’s senior legislative attorney, who attended the meeting. “The council has said they want to get this done by February.”

The council will hold a Jan. 17 hearing on the legislation, which would set guidelines for planning, create a hearing examiner position to mediate disputes between the community and developers, and transfer zoning enforcement powers from the Department of Park and Planning to the Department of Permitting Services (DPS).

DPS reports to the county executive — Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat running for governor next year — who proposed transferring enforcement authority and urged the council to support his plan.

But a Planning Board commissioner yesterday called the idea “absurd.”

“And the former commissioner thinks that’s a good idea?” Commissioner Wendy Perdue asked, referring to council member Nancy Floreen, an at-large Democrat who served on the Planning Board from 1986 to 1994.

In addition, the board expressed opposition to the hearing examiner’s position, which would have more authority than the board. Mr. Berlage said he and other board members are determined to maintain control of their destiny.

Park and Planning staff prepared a list of five key issues addressed in the legislation, which poses basic questions on what the agency does.

The questions include “What is the procedure for Planning Board approval of a site plan?” and “What approvals control development?”

Council members have asked these same questions of Mr. Berlage and other planners since July, after The Washington Times first reported that hundreds of homes were too high or too close to the street at the Clarksburg Town Center.

Since then, Clarksburg residents have uncovered numerous other irregularities and accused developers of disregarding legally binding documents.

Residents have entered into mediation talks with the main developer, Newland Communities of San Diego.

Meanwhile, Park and Planning staff have recommended $2.1 million in fines against Clarksburg’s developers, and the county inspector general is investigating the scandal.

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