- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Montgomery County Planning Board staffer falsified site plans for a 1,300-home development in Clarksburg to cover up building-height violations by the developer, and then lied about it, according to a board report.

The report, issued late Tuesday, was written by Rose Krasnow, chief of development review for the Planning Board, in preparation for a board meeting next Thursday. The meeting is scheduled to devote more than four hours to reviewing problems at the multimillion-dollar Clarksburg Town Center.

Mrs. Krasnow did not identify the Planning Board staffer who handled the Clarksburg project. But the staffer — Wynn Witthans — is identified in numerous Planning Board documents and in a recording of a board meeting.

Miss Witthans officially resigned last week but “has been gone for some time,” Ms. Krasnow said.

Miss Witthans could not be reached at home and did not return a message left on her phone last night.

Planning Board spokeswoman Nancy Lineman said “a comprehensive, top-to-bottom review of our process” by an outside party would be initiated soon.

“We are taking this very seriously and are taking action to correct the problem,” she said.

According to the board’s report, Miss Witthans altered the site plans late last year, changing building height limits from 35 feet and 45 feet to “four stories.” She testified at an April 14 board in support of the altered plans, the 15-page report states.

About 500 of the 725 homes that have been built in Clarksburg have exceeded height limits, the report states, adding that the violations occurred as a result of no government oversight.

Mrs. Krasnow blamed the lack of oversight on confusion over whether the Planning Board or the Department of Permitting Services was supposed to monitor the project.

Many buildings have been built 9 feet to 12 feet over the maximum height limit, according to the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee, the community group that uncovered the violations and the Planning Board misconduct.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that Montgomery County Council members Mike Knapp and Marilyn J. Praisner, both Democrats, have expressed concern about the building-height violations and staff misconduct.

They also were concerned that the original vision of the Clarksburg Town Center — promoted as a pedestrian-friendly “neo-traditional community” that would become a “gathering place and commercial hub” — was being trampled by the developer’s eagerness to build more houses with more room at a faster pace.

Town homes have been selling for up to $500,000 recently, while single-family homes have sold for $700,000 to $800,000.

The development sits on 268 acres, with 100 of those acres set aside for parks and other green areas. It includes a town center with 150,000 square feet of retail space and 100,000 square feet of office space.

Mr. Knapp said construction might have to be halted for fines to be issued and compensation given to home buyers who have moved in and are lacking the promised amenities.

Community members have complained that the town center is being built to look more like a strip mall and that connections to a historic church have been destroyed by development that was improperly altered.

Charlie Maier, spokesman for San Diego-based developer Newland Communities, said the company has adhered to all approved plans.

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