- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

The developer in Clarksburg yesterday blamed Montgomery County planning staff members for any illegal changes at the 1,300-home development, contradicting assertions by county planners and County Council members.

Douglas C. Delano, a representative for developer Newland Communities Inc. of San Diego, said builders have treated staff instructions, not county law, as the binding legal authority in changing site plans.

“The county staff really told the developer and the builders what to do,” Mr. Delano said.

Newland Communities is accused of hundreds of building violations in Clarksburg, where 14,000 homes are planned. The Department of Park and Planning, which provides staffing for the county Planning Board, has reported that builders disregarded height and setback limits in Clarksburg.

The Planning Board will begin deciding who is at fault today during the first of two hearings on violations.

The residents group that uncovered building violations in Clarksburg said developers and their attorneys are responsible for knowing the law and conforming to it, regardless of what planning staffers have said.

“We’re citizens. We’re reading the [county] code. The code is plain to understand when you read it in context,” said Amy Presley, co-chairwoman of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee (CTCAC).

Mr. Delano said he had not read the county code chapter about changes to site plans and declined a copy of the law yesterday.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Presley said that Clarksburg builders often deviated from legally binding site plans, then sought amendments after the fact from planning staff.

“Did [staff instructions] go beyond what they should have? Perhaps,” Mr. Delano said yesterday.

But he likened the county planners’ relationship with builders to that of a police officer motioning a driver through a red light.

“You go through the red light,” Mr. Delano said.

Mrs. Presley, however, said the proper analogy is that of a police officer telling someone to rob a bank.

Significant changes such as the removal of a walkway linking the historic district to the town center and the reduction of lot sizes were made without public notice.

In July, the Planning Board found that more than 500 homes were built too high or too close to the street in Clarksburg.

Additionally, Wynn Witthans, who oversaw the construction project for Park and Planning, falsified site plans to cover up the violations. She has resigned, and Park and Planning Director Charles E. Loehr will retire at the end of this month.

Yesterday, Mr. Delano sent a letter to all residents in the half-finished development, seeking to “set the record straight.”

In the letter, the attorney said Newland and the builders have done nothing wrong in Clarksburg because they were following instructions from county planners and any violations that have occurred are minor.

Mr. Delano said only 272 homes are too high, many by mere inches, citing aerial photos that were taken to measure the buildings from the street “to the midpoint of the roof.”

County planners and County Council members have said the builders specifically are at fault.

Rose Krasnow, chief of development review for the planning department said in a July report that planning staff were “greatly” concerned over a “patent disregard” for height restrictions shown by builders.

A report last week said amenities such as parks and pools in Clarksburg “have been relegated to the backside of the town’s streets as an afterthought.”

In late July, council member Michael L. Subin, at-large Democrat, said building violations occurred when the planning process was “pressed by an unethical builder.”

Mr. Delano said Newland has not been involved in many of the issues in dispute.

Yet, Newland has hired some of the same people and companies that had worked on Clarksburg Town Center since early 2001, including the zoning-specialty law firm Linowes and Blocher and surveying firm Charles P. Johnson & Associates Inc.

“From the time that shovel hit dirt, the same players have been involved,” Mrs. Presley said.

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