- The Washington Times - Friday, November 25, 2005

The Montgomery County Department of Parks and Planning last night issued a series of recommendations to the Planning Board, including $2.11 million in fines, following the discovery of numerous irregularities at the Clarksburg Town Center.

The 28-page report by the department’s Development Review Division stated that the recommendations were based upon several key findings, including that staff members had “exceeded” their authority by approving an amendment to the project that allowed the builder to exceed height limits on townhouses.

The report says such a “major” amendment should have been submitted for approval to the Planning Board, which is part of the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission, a state agency that has nearly identical representations in both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Rose Krasnow, chief of the review division, could not be reached last night for comment.

The department recommended fines totaling $2.11 million against developer Newland Communities of San Diego and the builders, including Bozzuto Homes Inc.

Officials for Newland and Bozzuto also could not be reached last night.

The department said it will next address 15 potential violations, amid claims that hundreds of violations were committed.

The report stated that the builders should be fined for seeking permits that were not in compliance with board-approved site plans and for beginning construction before plans were signed and approved.

Newland officials have acknowledged changes were made without public notice but said they had approval from county planners who had Planning Board authority.

Members of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee, a homeowners group that has uncovered hundreds of potential violations since August 2004, said last night the report does not place enough blame on the developers and builders.

“They’re more willing to take the fall than point the finger in the direction it should be pointed — at the developer,” said Amy Presley, a co-chairwoman of the committee.

Last spring, county planner Wynn Witthans admitted she had changed a site plan to cover up height violations, then re-signed the document.

A forensic examiner hired by the homeowners group determined that signatures on several planning documents were not Miss Witthans’, but were those of other unknown persons.

However, the report recommends that the Planning Board find that the documents were properly signed.

The reports also recommends that Newland now submit a plan of compliance for the entire Clarksburg project and that the board suspend hearings on the remaining violations until the plan is reviewed.

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