- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Montgomery County Planning Board yesterday said it has begun to review and approve 199 building permits that had been “frozen” by County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

The board said the effect of Mr. Duncan’s freeze, which required a small number of permits to be resubmitted with height and setback specifications, was exaggerated.

“Everybody has been thinking this has been a broad, wide-ranging building freeze, and it’s affected 199 permits,” spokeswoman Nancy Lineman said.

Rose Krasnow, chief of development review for the Planning Board, said the new review process will likely slow permit approvals “a little bit.”

Board Chairman Derick Berlage has asked the County Council for new staffers and will reassign current staffers to review permits until the new positions are filled.

Mr. Duncan’s office referred all calls to the Department of Permitting Services (DPS), which now shares responsibility with the Department of Park and Planning (DPP) for reviewing permit applications. The Planning Board oversees park and planning work.

The new review process was established after the Planning Board found earlier this month that builders erected in the Clarksburg Town Center 433 homes that exceed height limits and 102 that are too close to the street. Neither DPS nor DPP had checked the buildings to ensure they matched site plans, according to a board report.

Former DPP staffer Wynn Witthans altered a site plan to hide the violations and then lied about it in an April hearing, the report states. Mrs. Witthans resigned last month.

The county inspector general, the state special prosecutor and the County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight are conducting separate investigations into the case.

Mr. Duncan, a Democrat, called a “freeze” on building permits when he announced the new review process for 199 permits on July 18.

Council member Mike Knapp, Germantown Democrat, yesterday said “nobody knew what he meant by that” and homeowners throughout the county became confused and worried about their building permits.

Confusion about the so-called “freeze” and how it would be affected by a bill that called for tightening control over the building-review process apparently extended to council members, as well. The council rejected the bill on Tuesday.

At the hearing Tuesday, council member Phil Andrews read e-mail from home buyers worried they would not be able to move into their homes if the bill passed.

Mr. Andrews, Gaithersburg Democrat, yesterday said he voted against the bill because it would have “contained a stop-work order without requiring evidence of a problem.”

The stop-work order would have applied only to the 199 permits. For all other permits that required a site plan, the bill would have required that builders note a site plan’s height and setback limits, and that DPP and DPS jointly review the applications.

Builders and developers rallied more than 100 of their employees and some home buyers to attend Tuesday’s all-day council hearing on the bill. They all wore white shirts to protest the so-called “freeze.”

However, other council members rebutted Mr. Andrews.

“It is not a moratorium. It is not a freeze. I got the same e-mails Mr. Andrews got,” said council member Steve Silverman, at-large Democrat. “It is a simple piece of legislation that says, ‘Let’s recheck some permits that already went out the door.’



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