- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Montgomery County Council members yesterday expressed surprise and confusion over why construction continued in Clarksburg as investigations into hundreds of building violations were ongoing.

The county Department of Park and Planning issued a stop-work order on clearing or grading land in Clarksburg on Monday, more than two months after violations were first reported.

“I think everybody was under the assumption that there was no more building going on, and in fact there was,” said County Council member Steven Silverman, at-large Democrat.

Council member Michael Knapp, a Germantown Democrat who represents Clarksburg, said he thought no construction had occurred there since July 7, except for a few homes that were under contract.

During a July 7 hearing, the county Planning Board determined that more than 500 homes had been built too high or too close to the street in the Clarksburg Town Center. Planning officials at the time said homes under contract could be “grandfathered in” and built even if they, too, violated height or setback restrictions.

“I couldn’t figure out what they were saying,” Mr. Knapp said yesterday.

On Monday, Planning Board spokeswoman Nancy Lineman said builders in Clarksburg in June had imposed a voluntary stop-work order on themselves until the July 7 hearing.

After the hearing, “the builders could construct virtually anything they wanted to as long as the construction conformed with height and setback requirements in the site plan,” Ms. Lineman said Monday.

The stop-work order issued Monday means builders no longer are “permitted to prepare to build” in Clarksburg, she said, adding that they had been clearing and grading land in preparation for more construction.

The county government’s inspector general, the Maryland special prosecutor and the council staff have been conducting separate investigations into the violations since this summer.

On Monday, planning officials told council members that they still do not know the full scope of the Clarksburg violations.

Several lots for single-family homes are as much as 800 square feet too small, said Rose Krasnow, development review chief for Park and Planning, the Planning Board’s staff.

Plat records — drawings that show blocks of 10 to 30 homes — do not match the legally binding site plan, Mrs. Krasnow told council members Monday.

In addition, an attorney for the residents group that uncovered the height and setback violations has sent to Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage a letter noting other violations.

In his letter Monday to Mr. Berlage, attorney David W. Brown said his client — the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee — has found that many side yards and back yards are too small, the space between many homes is too narrow, and many back yards have been overwhelmed by accessory buildings such as garages.

Also, affordable housing units have not been dispersed throughout the community, the letter said.

Ms. Lineman did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

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