- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2005

A 217-year-old Methodist church in Clarksburg has been cut off from the new town center by a wall of dirt where a broad avenue had been planned to link the town’s future with its past.

“Clarksburg United Methodist Church is the history of Clarksburg,” said Clark Warfield, who was married in the upper Montgomery County church 32 years ago.

“What was always promoted but never came about … was going to incorporate or include the church as part of the development and the community,” said Mr. Warfield, 62, a retired federal worker who lives in Clarksburg.

The historic church’s woes add to those of homeowners at Clarksburg Town Center, where hundreds of violations by builders — and gross mismanagement by county planning officials — have been uncovered.

According to the formal plans for the site, a road was to have been extended past Clarksburg United Methodist to provide on-street parking for its members. The road also was to have linked the church to a 30-foot-wide walkway, or mews, that was to have stretched nearly 500 feet to a memorial park for William Clarke, who founded the town as a trading post in 1735.

The memorial park was to have adjoined another wide green near the new town center, which is planned to feature more than 100,000 square feet of retail space.

Instead, the 200-member church sits behind a large, shrub-covered berm, obscured from the rest of the community. The road was not extended, so churchgoers have no on-street parking, and the planned walkway has been turned into an alley.

Moreover, the memorial park has been moved to a small plot near the church on the fringe of the development, and construction of a path linking the church to a large park appears unlikely.

The Rev. William C. Maisch, pastor of Clarksburg United Methodist, said the original plans aimed to allow easy access to the church while honoring the town’s history.

“The church wants to make sure that everyone has access to us without going completely outside and around [the building],” Mr. Maisch said. “That was what we had thought was a guiding principle of the building process — to integrate the historic district and the church. We want to be of service to the entire community.”

But, as with many other instances of building violations in Clarksburg, the center’s developer — Newland Communities Inc. of San Diego — and builders disregarded official, legally binding plans for the church- and memorial-related elements.

And the county’s Department of Park and Planning, which is responsible for enforcing building codes in developments that require site plans, did not monitor what the builders were doing.

According to county law, the developer and builders would have had to submit a “major plan amendment” for the county Planning Board’s approval to make the site-plan changes that have occurred in Clarksburg.

But a review of official records for the Clarksburg project shows that the builders did not do so.

Michael Ma, the Park and Planning staffer who currently oversees the Clarksburg project, did not return calls seeking comment. His supervisor, Park and Planning Director Charles E. Loehr, also did not return calls.

A spokesman for Newland Communities did not return calls seeking comment.

The Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee (CTCAC), a residents group, uncovered hundreds of building height and setback violations this summer, and the Planning Board determined that former Park and Planning staffer Wynn Witthans had forged site plans and lied about their authenticity. She has since resigned.

The county government’s inspector general, the Maryland special prosecutor and the County Council staff are conducting separate investigations into the violations.

The Planning Board is scheduled to hear about additional violations Oct. 6 and hold a sanctions hearing Nov. 3.


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