- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Clarksburg residents who have uncovered hundreds of building-code violations in their community yesterday presented the Montgomery County Planning Board with block-by-block evidence to show that a developer flouted the public planning process.

A leader of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee (CTCAC) cited aerial photos and a color map drawn by the developer to show that streets were built too narrow; housing types, locations and densities were changed; affordable-housing units were moved; and other key changes were made without public notice or board approval.

“They have changed every block,” CTCAC co-chairwoman Amy Presley said during a five-hour, slide-show presentation before the Planning Board.

Yesterday’s meeting was the first of three hearings the Planning Board has scheduled to resolve building-violation issues in Clarksburg.

The developer — Newland Communities of San Diego — will have up to six hours Nov. 3 to rebut CTCAC’s charges. Some time after Nov. 18, the five-member board will hear from its staff before deliberating and ruling on the violations.

According to CTCAC attorney David W. Brown, Newland Communities “has orchestrated development according to its own plan” at the 1,300-home Clarksburg Town Center.

In a 133-slide presentation, Mrs. Presley pointed out a large, color map produced by Newland and noted how it varied from the legally binding site plans produced by county planners. She said the developer used its own map to guide its construction, not the county-approved plans.

“They feel like they can do what they want, and then cover it over later,” she said.

Newland attorney Steven Kaufman said that all the changes in Clarksburg were approved by staff in the Department of Park and Planning, though there is no documentation for many of the approvals.

“It’s clear that the board expanded their staff’s authority,” Mr. Kaufman said.

He said the state law that created the Planning Board gives the board power to delegate authority to staff that they do not have under county code.

The Planning Board is part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a state agency that has nearly identical bodies for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Mrs. Presley and Mr. Brown have argued that the board would be acting as a legislative body in giving its staff powers not enumerated in county law.

The Planning Board already has ruled that Newland and five builders built more than 500 homes too high or too close to the street in Clarksburg, and that developers provided insufficient parks, open spaces and other amenities.

The county Department of Housing and Community Affairs, which oversees affordable housing, also has told Newland that it is behind in providing sufficient affordable housing.

The County Council’s staff, the county inspector general and the state special prosecutor are conducting separate investigations. The council staff’s report is due Nov. 8.

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