Montgomery developers seek to oust Berliner, back Trachtenberg for County Council

The Montgomery County development community’s payback for Ten Mile Creek appears to be underway.

Four prominent industry figures have lined up behind Duchy Trachtenberg’s bid to unseat County Council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), a key player in the council’s March 4 decision to sharply limit new construction in the watershed around Clarksburg.

The four — Bruce Lee, president of Lee Development Group; Kevin Maloney, former chair of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce; Brian Lang, senior vice president of Guardian Realty Investors; and Jim Soltesz, whose engineering firm works closely with builders -- are hosting an April 10 fundraiser for Trachtenberg at the Congressional County Club. Among

Soltesz’s clients is the Peterson Cos., which sought approval for a retail, office and hotel project on 100 acres east of Interstate-270 in Clarksburg. After months of testimony and debate, the council tentatively agreed to limit Peterson’s footprint to about half of what it originally proposed.

Council members said they were persuaded by scientific evidence that Ten Mile, one of the last clean creeks in the county, would be polluted by storm runoff from new construction. They also cited a study concluding that a heavy retail presence on the site could damage the viability of the planned Clarksburg Town Center. A final vote is scheduled for March 25.

Business leaders regard the council’s decision as an election-season cave-in to environmentalists, who framed the issue as a litmus test.

“Our daily efforts to run our businesses and to ensure that our employees have the ability to provide for their families are simply not a major consideration for some sitting Councilmembers,” the e-mail invitation said. “Regrettably, our current District 1 Councilmember, Roger Berliner, has made it clear that business and economic development are less of a priority for him than political expediency.”

They said they were supporting Trachtenberg, a former at-large council member (2006-2010) whom they have “known for years.”

“She has the highest integrity, is open to discuss issues, and she wants to see our county grow and compete!” the invitation said.

Berliner said Thursday that he was proud of his record, citing his advocacy for development in White Flint and plans for a bus rapid transit network.

“I am aware that there are disappointed developers in Clarksburg,” he said. “I have no regrets with respect to that action.”

Berliner, who was unopposed in the June Democratic primary until Trachtenberg filed for candidacy hours before the Feb. 25 deadline, is scrambling to ramp up a campaign. He’s put together an April 3 fundraiser at Positano in Bethesda (“Diamond” level sponsorships go for $1,000). Earlier this week, he rolled out a lengthy endorsement list that includes State Sens. Brian Feldman (D-Potomac), Brian Frosh (D-Bethesda) and Richard Madaleno (D-Chevy Chase).

Trachtenberg said her April 10 event should not be construed to mean that her support is limited to the business community.

“Ultimately, the campaign is about bringing people together,” she said. “The civic community, the progressive community, the business community and union community. We have to figure out a way to go forward.”

Trachtenberg, a family therapist and former president of the Maryland chapter of the National Organization of Women, would not appear to be a natural choice for her new benefactors. She came to the council in 2006 as part of a “slow growth” reaction to the pace of development in the county. During Trachtenberg’s campaign that year, she and fellow candidate Marc Elrich pledged to take no contributions from development interests. They both won.

“If anyone had said four years ago that two at-large candidates could run and win without any development money, it would been thought that was impossible,” she said then.

In her unsuccessful 2010 reelection campaign, however, she accepted a $3,000 donation from the Maryland Realtors PAC, as did Elrich.

Trachtenberg said Thursday that her council voting record shows a willingness to balance competing interests. “If you look at my votes around development, I had concerns about adequate infrastructure and preservation of green space.”

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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