- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

Streets and alleys in the Clarksburg Town Center have been built more narrowly than was designated in legally binding drawings, creating areas where emergency vehicles might not be able to reach, Montgomery County Council members and residents said yesterday.

Council members have expressed confusion over what has been built in Clarksburg and what is detailed in plat records. These official drawings show blocks of 10 to 30 homes and set basic specifications, including property lines.

The Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee, a residents group, has measured street widths for about 20 plat records. In each case, the streets and alleys are about 6 feet to 8 feet narrower than is represented in the plats.

Yesterday, council member Steven Silverman sent a letter to Park and Planning Director Charles R. Loehr demanding that the agency take action within 30 days to address the problem.

Mr. Silverman, an at-large Democrat who plans to run for county executive next year, said street width violations are “far more significant” than the height and setback violations uncovered by the advisory committee this summer.

“It raises a question about whether what was built out there was what was approved,” he said. “I’m talking about the planning board signs off on a plat that says that this is supposed to be a row of town houses, these are the lot sizes, the road widths, and it turns out they go out and build something different.

“It is our understanding that you have streets and alleys that are too narrow for emergency vehicles to go through. That’s a real problem.”

He recommended that Mr. Loehr hire an independent contractor to review the record plats, and asked whether construction was continuing in Clarksburg despite a promise by the Department of Park and Planning that it would be stopped.

Amy Presley, co-chairwoman of the advisory committee, said public roads in the Clarksburg development are the appropriate width, noting that the Department of Permitting Services (DPS) checks the construction of public roads. The Department of Park and Planning monitors construction of private roads and alleys, which are called tertiary roads.

Tertiary roads designated for 20 feet or 22 feet on plats, which are part of the public file for properties, are only 14 feet or 16 feet wide.

“From what I’ve seen, none of it adds up,” said council member Mike Knapp, a Democrat who represents Clarksburg. “None of it makes any sense.”

Mr. Knapp said that if plat records do not represent what has been built, then that “calls the deed into question. … I don’t know how people could have gone to settlement.”

Mr. Loehr, who abruptly announced on Sept. 1 that he will retire at the end of next month, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Planning Board Chairman Derick P. Berlage, who supervises Mr. Loehr, also did not return phone calls.

The Washington Times reported that Mr. Berlage approved plat records for the Clarksburg center more than a year before the site plan drawings for the second phase of the project were approved in October 2004.

County law requires plat records to be based on and match site plan drawings.

Mr. Berlage has said the discrepancies would be addressed.

The county inspector general, the Maryland special prosecutor and the County Council staff are conducting separate investigations.

The Planning Board has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 10 to discuss all violations beyond the height and setback problems at Clarksburg.

The height and setback violations resulted from a lack of oversight by Park and Planning personnel, council members and planning staff have determined.

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