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Jul 22 05

Park and Planning Reschedules Sanctions Hearing on Clarksburg Town Center Development


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.”

Jul 18 05

Duncan, Berlage Announce Freeze on Building Permits in Site Plan Zones: Improvements for Development Reviews and Inspections


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.”

Jul 15 05

Berlage Announces Planning Commission Contacted by State Special Persecutor


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.”

Jul 7 05

Montgomery County Planning Board Unanimously Finds Developers in Violation of Approved Planning Agreements


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.