- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

Montgomery County residents who exposed building violations in Clarksburg last summer say they want a developer to fix what went wrong in their community before they discuss the county reimbursing their expenses.

“We don’t want anybody to say we were manipulated or controlled by the idea of being reimbursed,” said Amy Presley, co-founder of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee (CTCAC).

Nonetheless, a CTCAC member has encouraged the group’s supporters to write the County Council and the media this week to lobby for the county to cover CTCAC’s costs, which are expected to be about $500,000.

The County Council last week talked about reimbursing CTCAC for legal fees it has incurred while investigating numerous problems in the 1,300-home Clarksburg Town Center and presenting their findings to the Planning Board.

CTCAC is in mediation talks with the developer, who they say built hundreds of homes in violation of legally binding site plans and changed plans after the fact, in conjunction with county planners.

Many of the changes were detrimental to the quality of the community, they said.

The mediation talks will be completed by the middle of next week, a source close to the negotiations said.

The developer, Newland Communities of San Diego, has said the Planning Board authorized county staff to make changes without public notification.

The Planning Board already has found that Newland built more than 500 homes too high or too close to the street, and that the developer skimped on providing amenities to the community.

In addition, the county inspector general is investigating whether any fraud or criminal conduct occurred in the Department of Park and Planning, which is the staff for the Planning Board.

If reimbursement is on the table at mediation, then Newland, if it offers to pay CTCAC’s expenses, could do less to improve the community, Mrs. Presley said.

Council member Steven Silverman said he shared Mrs. Presley’s concern.

“I’d like it to get resolved without taxpayer money, but I don’t know how that happens,” said Mr. Silverman, an at-large Democrat running for county executive. “It really shouldn’t be part of the mediation process. We should just pick up the tab for CTCAC exposing some weaknesses in our planning process.”

However, council member Nancy Floreen said Newland should pay some or all of the expenses before taxpayers foot the bill.

“I’m certainly not going to offer to pay it before we expect the development community to pay for a problem they’ve created,” said Mrs. Floreen, at-large Democrat.

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