- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

One thing kept Kim Shiley going as she fought through skin cancer — her new home. And now she is fighting to get what she paid for.

Ms. Shiley, 43, was diagnosed with melanoma in February 2003, one month after buying an unbuilt town house in the Clarksburg Town Center, which was promised to be just like developments in Reston and Kentlands. She underwent painful, invasive procedures to combat the cancer, which spread to her lymph nodes.

“I fought to stay alive to live here,” she said of her ordeal.

But as Ms. Shiley watched her house being built, then saw the first few hundred homes in what is planned to be a 1,300-unit, multimillion dollar development, she sensed that something was not right.

She and other Clarksburg residents began looking into the construction of their community — an investigation that formed the basis of a Montgomery County Planning Board report that cited building-height violations and tampering of site plans by board staffer Wynn Witthans.

What’s more, County Council members are talking about halting the Clarksburg construction to issue fines and compensate home buyers. The Washington Times reported about the Planning Board report and the County Council discussions yesterday.

“Now they’re trying to amend what they’ve already done because right now it’s not legal,” said Ms. Shiley, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Public Health Service.

She and fellow Clarksburg residents Amy Presley and Carol Smith estimate they each have spent about 700 hours over the last 10 months working to obtain the numerous construction plans and organize an ocean of information into a coherent presentation.

“It’s nonstop. We live and breathe this thing because there’s so much work involved,” Mrs. Smith said.

Planned since the early 1990s, the Clarksburg Town Center was promoted as a pedestrian-friendly “neo-traditional community” that would become a “gathering place and commercial hub” in the formerly rural northwestern part of the county.

Town houses in the area have sold for $500,000 in recent months, and 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.

“None of the retail or business space is close to finished, and most of the community’s amenities — swimming pools, green spaces, parks, playgrounds, athletic fields and courts — have yet to be built,” Ms. Shiley said.

Meanwhile, town houses, single-family homes and condominiums are being built at breakneck speed. More than 700 have been finished — and more than two thirds of the homes built so far have exceeded their height restrictions by as much as 10 feet.

This week, a Planning Board report confirmed that Miss Witthans had falsified site plans to cover up the height violations, then lied about the alterations to the board at an April meeting, which prompted the board to vote that no violations had occurred.

Miss Witthans changed site plans last fall that had set height restrictions at 35 feet and 45 feet to read “four stories,” the report states. She has resigned from the Planning Board and has not returned several calls seeking comment.

The Planning Board has scheduled a hearing to reconsider the matter Thursday.

Ms. Shiley and the members of her group, the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee (CTCAC), say the height violations are just one example of how the developer, Newland Communities of San Diego, has disregarded site plans.

Newland spokesman Charles Maier said yesterday that the report “indicates that there was a disconnect between the Planning Board and the Department of Permitting Services.”

The report, written by Rose Krasnow, chief of development review for the Planning Board, said there was no oversight on the Clarksburg project due to confusion over whether the Planning Board or the Department of Permitting Services was supposed to monitor the project.

“We follow what we get from those agencies, and we did in every case,” Mr. Maier said. “That same government report acknowledges that two different government departments did not do their jobs in regulating new-home construction. But then it arrived at the convenient conclusion that the home builders are at fault.”

County Council member Mike Knapp, a Democrat, said this week that the issues uncovered by Ms. Shiley and the CTCAC are widespread and have cast doubt on the integrity of the site review and approval process overseen by the Planning Board.

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