- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Montgomery County Planning Board yesterday ruled that a developer involved in the Clarksburg building scandal has violated standards in Bethesda.

Elm Street Development built some of its 28 luxury condominiums in its Bethesda Crest development too close to the road and began grading for construction last year before receiving permission, the board found.

The five-member panel imposed about $6,000 in fines for the grading violation, rejecting a proposal by one board member to fine Elm Street Development about $70,000.

Homeowners who had opposed construction of the condos since 2001 said the board was relieving the developer of responsibility.

James Gilligan, a member of the Maplewood Citizens Association, said the board was focusing only on the homes’ proximity to the streets and was doing little to correct oversight problems. He said other issues involve building heights, deforestation and road widths.

“You cannot rectify what has gone wrong at Bethesda Crest, at Clarksburg and elsewhere, and you cannot deter this kind of misconduct in the future with that kind of self-imposed myopia,” said Mr. Gilligan, a federal attorney.

“Despite all the politicians’ talk about reforming the planning process, today’s decision … shows that nothing has changed and that real reform is going to require new political leadership in Montgomery County,” Mr. Gilligan said after the Planning Board hearing.

Homeowners in the Clarksburg Town Center uncovered hundreds of building-code violations. The county inspector general and the state special prosecutor are investigating.

David Flanagan, who owns Elm Street Development, declined to respond to Miss Wellington’s comments.

“I absolutely deny that we did anything wrong intentionally,” he said yesterday.

Mr. Flanagan also owns Craftstar/Craftmark Homes, one of the builders for the Clarksburg project. A Planning Board report said Wynn Witthans, a county planner overseeing the Clarksburg Town Center development, altered official documents to conceal the violations.

Ms. Witthans also oversaw the Bethesda Crest development, located just north of the National Institutes of Health on Route 355. She has since resigned.

Yesterday, board member Meredith K. Wellington accused the developer of deceit.

“I think confusion was created by the staff and the applicant, glossing over the details,” Miss Wellington said. “This suggests an effort to confuse and mislead.”

Other board members resisted her efforts to investigate other charges of building code violations in Bethesda Crest.

Earlier this month, the County Council’s staff issued a report that focused on weaknesses in the planning process.

The Planning Board’s staff is scheduled to issue a report Wednesday on a related matter for a Dec. 1 hearing. On Dec. 13, the board will issue a comprehensive report on Clarksburg for a Dec. 20 hearing, a planning manager said.

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