- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Montgomery County officials and planners yesterday said finger-pointing and political posturing have hindered the county’s response to a building scandal in Clarksburg.

“I hope we’re at a point where we can actually begin moving forward on this,” said council member Michael Knapp, Clarksburg Democrat.

Yesterday’s two-hour meeting — the council’s 10th on the topic in the past three months — featured pointed criticism from the Planning Board.

Planning Board Commissioner Allison Bryant said planners have become “schizophrenic” in the past few months because of the “white noise” from the county council.

“There is a disconnect between the board and the citizens, and the board and the council, and to a certain extent between the council and the citizens,” Board Commissioner Meredith K. Wellington said.

After the meeting, Mr. Bryant noted “tension” between the appointed, five-member Planning Board and the elected, nine-member county council, and said the hearing helped improve the situation.

But county homeowners who unearthed hundreds of building-code violations in Clarksburg were not impressed.

“To date, our county council has not even publicly stated what is at issue, as far as developers doing what they want in this county, and residents are angry,” said Amy Presley, co-chairwoman of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee (CTCAC).

“The real story will unfold through other investigations,” she said.

The county inspector general and the state special prosecutor are conducting separate investigations into the Clarksburg violations.

The Planning Board ruled in July that more than 500 homes had been built too high or too close to the street in the 1,300-home Clarksburg Town Center.

Former planner Wynn Witthans admitted in May that she altered a site plan to cover up the height violations, according to a Planning Board report. She has since resigned.

Last week, a certified document examiner hired by CTCAC swore in an affidavit that nearly 50 of Ms. Witthans’ signatures on legally binding planning documents are “not genuine.”

At least two and possibly five people signed her name on the documents, the examiner testified.

Yesterday, County Council member Steven Silverman, at-large Democrat, asked Planning Board Chairman Derick P. Berlage about the signatures.

Mr. Berlage did not explain how or why the signatures could have been written by other people.

Mr. Silverman, who is running for county executive next year, said he is satisfied that “that situation will never happen again.”

“Only people who are authorized to sign something should be signing those things,” he said.

Mr. Silverman said he did not press the Planning Board on the signatures because he expects the board to investigate them.

The Planning Board has scheduled hearings for Dec. 1 and Dec. 20 to hear evidence and issue rulings on the Clarksburg violations.

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