- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan yesterday proposed removing building code enforcement from the tasks of the Planning Board, whose officials had said they did not know they were responsible for such enforcement in Clarksburg.

Under Mr. Duncan’s plan, the Department of Permitting Services (DPS) would become responsible for enforcing building standards in all zones. DPS currently issues building permits and enforces standards only in zones that do not require site plans.

In a letter to County Council President Thomas E. Perez, Mr. Duncan said he was “disappointed and outraged to learn of the series of failures” that led to hundreds of building violations in Clarksburg.

His plan would strip the Planning Board’s authority to impose penalties on builders who violate site plans, which are legally binding specifications on which developers and the board agree.

The Planning Board obtained that authority in 1994, but reported that no one had inspected or enforced site plans after more than 500 building violations were discovered at the Clarksburg Town Center this summer.

Board staffer Wynn Witthans had falsified site plans to cover up the violations, the board reported. She has since resigned.

Board Chairman Derick Berlage and Parks and Planning Director Charles R. Loehr told the Washington Times last week that they thought DPS was responsible for enforcing site plans.

Mr. Berlage was a member of the County Council in 1994 when it voted to give the Planning Board authority to enforce building standards and assess penalties.

Mr. Loehr wrote a 27-page memo to council staff in 1992 explaining that it was his agency’s responsibility to monitor development in the county and enforce building standards.

Mr. Loehr, a 25-year county employee who has overseen Parks and Planning for seven years, abruptly announced last week that he will retire on Oct. 31.

Citizens groups suggested that he is leaving to evade questions about his involvement in the Clarksburg violations.

Mr. Loehr, 54, has not returned phone calls.

Mr. Duncan proposed amendments to the county code to transfer enforcement authority.

He also proposed that DPS hire 19 more workers, and that four employees be transferred to DPS from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which oversees the planning boards for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Mr. Berlage called Mr. Duncan’s proposal “a practical and sensible approach that will help ensure that developers follow all requirements in site plans,” but said a “host of reforms” is still needed.

Last week, Mr. Berlage could not answer why he approved construction of dozens of homes — some of which were occupied — before the Planning Board had approved plans for the Clarksburg site.

“That’s a discrepancy in the timeline that we would need to address, and we will,” he said.

The Planning Board will hold its second hearing on violations in Clarksburg on Sept. 15.

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