- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Montgomery County Council yesterday approved legislation aimed at clarifying which documents have legal authority in planning and zoning — the lawmakers’ first attempt at correcting systemic problems exposed in the summer’s building scandal in Clarksburg.

The legislation, which was approved unanimously and will go into effect April 1, states that when the Planning Board approves a site plan for construction, the panel is approving “one, final, integrated document.”

In addition, the council voted 6-3 to amend the legislation to require that every proposed change to a board-approved site plan go before the Planning Board.

“This legislation will work to ensure that subdivisions are built as approved,” said council member Phil Andrews, Rockville Democrat.

But the homeowners group that uncovered the Clarksburg scandal said current county law on construction is already clear.

“The law was very clear to many exactly as it was,” said Amy Presley, co-chairwoman of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee (CTCAC). “We’re pleased that action was taken to further clarify the law, since some people had trouble following the law as it was written.”

Some council members said the planning process is still far from being fixed.

“We have a tendency to pass something and say, ‘See, we did it,’” said council member Michael Knapp, Clarksburg Democrat. “We are just beginning the process.”

The council’s action springs from the discovery in May that hundreds of homes had been built too high or too close to the road in the 1,300-home Clarksburg Town Center, and that a Park and Planning staffer had falsified a site plan to cover up the violations.

CTCAC members discovered more violations. They accuse developer Newland Homes of San Diego of building according to its own plans and changing site plans on file with the county after the drawings had been approved by the Planning Board.

Newland says that all site-plan changes were approved by Planning Board staffers and that the board had given its staff authority to change plans without public notice.

The county inspector general and state prosecutor are conducting separate investigations into the matter.

CTCAC is in mediation talks with Newland that have been extended through April 6.

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