Clarksburg Town Center
SILVER SPRING – After reviewing a 220-plus page certified site plan and project plan submitted by Newland Communities, the developer of the Clarksburg Town Center, planners have found numerous inconsistencies with the plans approved by the Planning Board.
The discrepancies were detailed in a lengthy letter from staff. In an unusual move, Planning Director Rollin Stanley also sent a letter expressing dismay over the submittal and reminding the developer that the Planning Board could assess a $500-a-day fine if it finds Newland to be out of compliance with the site plan. The planners sent their responses to Newland yesterday.
Newland is scheduled to appear before the Planning Board on January 14 as part of a regular series of updates on the Clarksburg Town Center project. Planners asked Newland in their December 8 correspondence to submit corrected plans in early January in preparation for the January 14 meeting.
The Town Center project has been delayed for years to reconcile building violations and allow for mediation between the developer and Clarksburg residents. The Town Center plans were approved for close to 200,000 square feet of retail and 1,213 homes on 270 acres at Clarksburg Road and Snowden Farm Parkway. Although the first plan approvals go back as far 1995, the project was virtually halted when residents uncovered numerous discrepancies between the approved plans and what had been constructed.
Newland submitted a certified site plan on October 12 to reflect the Board’s site plan approval last fall. Typically, Board approvals include conditions that must be shown in a certified site plan. After certified site plan approval, developers can request building permits and begin construction.
According to planners reviewing the certified site plan submission, among its many problems was that it did not include or account for the correct amount of retail square footage, changed paving materials along the length of the main road, altered site details and specified that Montgomery County, rather than Newland, construct an up to 45-space library parking lot.
Planners in Development Review, Environmental Planning, the Department of Parks and the County Department of Permitting Services contributed to the 32-page December 8 response.
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SILVER SPRING – Planners trying to resolve the final issues related to a series of development applications for the Clarksburg Town Center recommend that the developer build a new parking garage and provide additional spaces to resolve the need for enough parking in the mixed residential and commercial area.
The Board will continue its deliberations on the Town Center proposal on Thursday following a November 6 marathon hearing for the proposed development. After that hearing, the Board asked its professional planning staff, the developer and the community to analyze parking needs and recommend solutions for consideration this month. The Board also asked staff to recommend solutions on a fitness center, the design of a public staircase, and the depth of the retail stores in the commercial center.
At Thursday’s hearing, the Board will hear no additional public testimony.
The recommendation comes toward the end of a years-long process to resolve multiple building violations and allow the Town Center project to move forward toward build out. Designated the northern-most corridor city along I-270, the Clarksburg Town Center represents one of the last major developments on former farmland in the county.
The Town Center plans call for close to 200,000 square feet of retail and 1,213 homes on 270 acres at Clarksburg Road and Snowden Farm Parkway.
The parking issue arose when the applicant submitted a trio of applications – project plan, preliminary plan and site plan – this fall that staff felt would not meet the project’s parking needs.
By proposing to reduce a three-story parking garage to a two-level structure and drop a second garage altogether, the applicant would create both a lack of parking and alter the store layout in a way that would not create a town center that would attract tenants or residents, planners say. The changes to the plans for parking also led to reduced depths for retail stores, narrower sidewalks and larger retaining walls.
After comparing parking requirements for similar projects in other areas, from Seattle to Sarasota, staff concluded that the development fell short on parking by almost 300 spaces. The analysis factored in that restaurants would likely occupy up to 20 percent of the retail space, and restaurants require 18 spaces per thousand square feet.
To make up the difference, staff recommends another multi-level parking garage near the retail core that is now proposed for 156 surface parking spaces as well as additional parking below a proposed grocery store. Staff specified in their recommendation that the design of the retail area should set a minimum of 60-feet depth for stores and provide wide sidewalks, which they say is necessary to create the kind of vibrant, walkable shopping experience that attracts customers.
Staff also recommended a sports facility of about 25 feet by 47 feet as well as $1 million for landscape and streetscape enhancements required by the Plan of Compliance that came about as a result of the Town Center building irregularities.
Planners have asked the Board to allow staff to review and approve the design revisions to the retail core that will be required to incorporate the additional parking to expedite build-out. Many Clarksburg residents have expressed frustration with the lack of retail and other unfinished amenities.
Montgomery County Planning Board
Review of Clarksburg Town Center Project, Preliminary & Site Plans
No public testimony accepted
9 a.m. Thursday, December 11
Park and Planning Headquarters
8787 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring
SILVER SPRING, MD – Officials at the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission postponed a hearing to decide sanctions against developers who built residential units too tall and too close to streets in Clarksburg Town Center. The hearing was originally slated for Thursday, July 28 and is now scheduled for September 22, 2005.
Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage said that staff are still receiving and analyzing information from developers regarding the exact heights and setbacks of hundreds of residential buildings in Clarksburg Town Center and the precise circumstances under which the violations occurred.
“I don’t think this is the time to rush things,” said Charlie Loehr, agency director. “With clear information on all the alleged violations, the Planning Board can make a better, more informed decision.”
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Montgomery County Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage today announced a freeze on the issuance of building permits in site plan zones until height limitation and setback requirements can be verified on a host of outstanding development projects. Duncan and Berlage also announced a plan to improve the site plan review and inspection process to ensure that developers are complying with site plan agreements in so-called optional method zones in the County. This improved accountability plan will require the hiring of additional zoning enforcement staff, paid for through a hike in developer permit application fees.
“The revelation that developers in Clarksburg violated height and setback restrictions was a serious abuse of the public trust, one that highlights some shortcomings in the current development review process,” said Duncan. “The steps we are taking will address these shortcomings and ensure that developers are complying with zoning restrictions.”
Currently, more than 190 building permit applications are pending with the Department of Permitting Services (DPS). Applicants are being notified that their permits will not be issued until they resubmit site plans that disclose height and setback calculations. Before issuing permits, DPS and Park and Planning will verify setback and height restrictions spelled out in the site plan approvals.
Beginning immediately, developers will be required to provide, as part of their permit application to DPS, clear evidence of compliance with height restrictions on any site plan approved by the Planning Board. Planning Board staff will review the evidence of height and setback compliance on site plans as part of the agency’s development review process.
“We’re taking initial steps that we know will make a huge difference,” said Berlage. “The goal is to put better systems in place to ensure developers comply with every letter of the law and our strict land use regulations.”
Additional enforcement staff will be needed in DPS and Park and Planning to take on this increased oversight responsibility. Duncan said that the additional staff will be paid for by developers through an increase in permit fees.
“Increasing zoning enforcement staff is necessary, but should not come at the expense of taxpayers – it should be paid for by the developers who benefit most from these development projects,” said Duncan.
Earlier this month, the Planning Board ruled that developers and builders constructed 433 townhouses too tall and 102 too close to streets. On July 28, the Board will consider sanctions against the builders and developers responsible for violating approved plans for the town center.
“We’re taking a collaborative approach even before the Office of Legislative Oversight begins its review because these interim changes can certainly help in the meantime,” said Berlage.
Park and Planning Director Charles Loehr also announced that he ended an internal practice that allowed mid-level planning staff to approve select administrative amendments to site plans. Now, only Loehr himself will issue such approvals.
The Planning Board and DPS will cooperate fully with OLO’s review of the development issues related to Clarksburg Town Center. In addition, the Planning Board will issue a request for proposals to management consulting firms who specialize in process reviews.
The Board will seek an independent, outside review of its development review division. “The OLO review will be very helpful, but we know there will be an additional need to take a broader look at our internal processes,” said Berlage. “We want to be ready to start that work just as soon as OLO has completed its work.”
SILVER SPRING, MD – Montgomery County Planning Board Chairman Derick P. Berlage announced today that the Maryland State Special Prosecutor has contacted the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). The prosecutor has initiated a preliminary investigation to determine if any criminal activity took place during the planning process of Clarksburg Town Center.
Berlage said M-NCPPC would cooperate fully with the investigation.
“We have seen absolutely no evidence whatsoever of criminal wrongdoing,” said Berlage. “But, we welcome an outsider who will take a comprehensive look and make an independent determination.”
SILVER SPRING, MD – The five-member Montgomery County Planning Board unanimously ruled that a development company along with numerous builders violated previous Board approvals by erecting hundreds of residential units too tall and some too close to streets within the Clarksburg Town Center. In the coming weeks, the Planning Board will likely impose fines on those at fault.
In 1995, the Planning Board initially approved a project plan for the Clarksburg Town Center development with maximum height limits of 45 feet and four stories for residential buildings including single-family detached homes, townhouses and condominium buildings. The same approval included a requirement of a 10-foot setback for all residential buildings.
Following the 1995 Board approval, developers submitted required plans in which they set lower building height limits of 35 feet for single-family houses and townhouses, and 45 feet for condominiums. Although more restrictive, those standards were never amended or changed – and therefore – are fully enforceable by the Planning Board.
Developer Newland Communities and builders Craftstar Homes, Inc,; NVR, Inc.; Miller & Smith; and Bozzuto Homes Inc. erected approximately 433 townhouses taller than 35 feet; built one condominium building taller than 45 feet; and constructed approximately 102 townhouses too close to residential streets which violated setback requirements.
In addition, the Board unanimously voted to allow home purchasers who already have contracts on townhouses or condominium units – built or not — to move forward with their purchases. The Board also agreed to grandfather all existing residential buildings that exceed height or setback limits in order to remove any potential cloud of title on those units.
All Planning Board members expressed their strong desire not to hinder any person who has a home currently under contract in the town center.
The board also ruled that all unbuilt single-family and townhouse units not under purchase contract must comply with the 35 feet height requirement and the 10-foot setback requirement. Should the developers desire to change the standards, they must return to the Board for approval.
A chronology of events regarding the Clarksburg Town Center is detailed in a departmental staff report that can be read by visiting the Clarksburg Town Center page. An unincorporated community group in Clarksburg conducted extensive research on the height and setback matters and brought its findings to the Planning Board.
Based on the numerous problems that have come to light regarding development in Clarksburg, Planning Board officials announced last week they would hire an outside firm to conduct a comprehensive and independent top-to-bottom review of the agency’s development approval and enforcement process.
“There’s no doubt that we fell short,” said Montgomery County Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage. “We invite and plan to fully cooperate with a review that comprehensively scrutinizes how development plans are approved and enforced as they are built.”
Residents of the Clarksburg community raised other issues including the placement of moderately priced dwelling units and community amenity timelines. Board directed staff to take a thorough look at such issues. Those matters could be brought to the board for consideration in the coming months.
Another hearing on Clarksburg matters specifically to discuss potential sanctions and other remedies will be held on Thursday, July 28, 2005.