- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Montgomery County Council members are expressing concern about the Park and Planning Board allowing — and possibly covering up — building-height violations in the construction of a 1,300-home development in Clarksburg.

“There are some real problems,” said council member Mike Knapp, a Democrat who represents western areas of the county. “We have a process that doesn’t appear to have been working, from a park-and-planning perspective.”

Mr. Knapp made his comments after meeting yesterday with council President Tom Perez, council member Steve Silverman and members of the Clarksburg Town Center community.

The Clarksburg Town Center project, a multimillion-dollar development of single-family and town homes, sits half-finished on 268 acres in the northwest part of the county. Planned since the early 1990s, the development has been advertised as a “gathering place and commercial hub” in the formerly rural area.

Town homes in the area have sold for $500,000 in recent months, and single-family homes have sold for $700,000 to $800,000.

Mr. Knapp said the planning board may have to decide at their meeting next week to suspend construction on the project.

He and council member Marilyn J. Praisner, a Democrat who represents the Silver Spring-Wheaton area, have scrutinized the town center project as a result of a 10-month investigation by community members into whether master plans for construction were being followed by the developer.

The Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee (CTCAC), a homeowners group, has accused San Diego-based developer Newland Communities of ignoring site plans for building heights and construction of a pedestrian-friendly community that connects the historic town of Clarksburg with the new town center.

CTCAC members Amy Presley and Kim Shiley researched and organized a substantial amount of information about the development.

“The community members have done a tremendous amount of work, more work than community members are required to do, or should even have to do, but I’m grateful because it brought these issues to light,” Mr. Knapp said. “There continue to be additional pieces. As you start pulling the string on the sweater, you find more and more issues.”

According to Mrs. Presley and Ms. Shiley, a park-and-planning staffer last fall falsified a site plan and changed the height requirements for buildings from actual measurements of 35 feet and 45 feet to “four stories.” The change allowed builders to exceed the height restrictions and the violations to go unnoticed by officials.

Mrs. Presley said Charlie Loehr, staff director for the Park and Planning Board, admitted the falsification to her.

Mr. Loehr did not return calls seeking comment yesterday. Rose Krasnow, chief of park and planning development review, could not be reached for comment.

The planning board ruled April 14 that there were no height violations, based on testimony from the staff member who falsified the site plan, according to the CTCAC. The board next week will reconsider whether height violations have occurred.

“What [CTCAC] showed me is, I believe, very serious,” Mrs. Praisner said. “I have not had an opportunity to hear what comments there may be from the government perspective. I’d like to have that opportunity.”

Charlie Maier, spokesman for Newland Communities, said the developer has adhered to all approved plans.

“In all construction matters, we’ve been guided very carefully, very specifically, by government master plans and government regulators,” Mr. Maier said.

Mr. Knapp said the planning board will have to “show the community that their development-review process is a strong and credible process. … There is a real need to restore that credibility.”

“There are probably going to have to be fines or some type of remuneration that doesn’t go into a general fund but is focused on amenities within the Clarksburg community to address some of the things that have been shortchanged,” he said.

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