- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2006

The Montgomery County Council is looking to the past to restore public confidence in the Planning Board in the aftermath of the building scandal last year in Clarksburg.

Council members today are scheduled to cast votes for a new Planning Board chairman, and a leading candidate is the man who led the panel in the 1970s.

“Royce Hanson is a giant in the field,” said council member Howard A. Denis, Bethesda Republican. “If he gets the votes, I’m confident he can restore what needs to be restored: strong leadership, democratic norms, taking others’ views into account and his tremendous reservoir of knowledge.”

Mr. Hanson, who directs George Washington University’s Center for Washington Area Studies, led the county Planning Board from 1972 to 1981.

He later worked for a research group focused on national urban policy, then taught at the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas at Dallas.

Mr. Hanson taught at the University of Maryland Baltimore County before moving to George Washington University.

He leads a slate of nine candidates to replace Planning Board Chairman Derick P. Berlage, a former County Council member.

In May, Mr. Berlage announced he would not seek a second term after the Clarksburg scandal cost him the support of the council.

Clarksburg residents last year uncovered hundreds of building violations in a new 1,300-home development and accused planning officials of exercising lax supervision over developers.

A county planner was discovered to have falsified a site plan to cover up the violations, and many other violations have since been found in developments across the county.

“We have a window of opportunity in Montgomery County to return to the glory years of planning,” Mr. Denis said of Mr. Hanson.

To become Planning Board chairman, Mr. Hanson needs the votes of five of the council’s nine members.

Four members — Mr. Denis; Phil Andrews, Rockville Democrat; Steven Silverman, an at-large Democrat who is running for county executive; and Nancy Floreen, at-large Democrat — have expressed support for Mr. Hanson.

“I’d be surprised if there are four or five votes for anyone else at this point, so that puts him in the driver’s seat,” Mr. Andrews said.

Mr. Hanson did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Last week, Mr. Berlage issued an independent report that said the county’s planning agency has undergone major reforms that have not received as much attention as the agency’s problems.

“As difficult as the last 12 months have been, I am proud of our staff, the commissioners and the community who have supported the difficult reform work,” he said.

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