As recently as the 1990s, Clarksburg was a rural crossroads featuring acres of open fields. It has since been transformed into one of the Washington area’s fastest-growing communities: a development of single-family homes, townhouses and condominiums along the I-270 corridor between Germantown and Frederick.
Montgomery County planners envisioned Clarksburg as an urban village where people could walk to stores, schools and libraries, a community dense enough for transit yet with natural features such as parks and greenways. Many residents have been lured by that vision.
As of the 2010 U.S. Census, 13,766 people called Clarksburg home, most living in three primary neighborhoods with active homeowners associations that provide amenities and activities. New schools have opened, and more are coming. There are parks aplenty, and the ballfields and bike paths are busy.
“We know a lot of people in the neighborhood: one big extended family,” said Barry Fantle, president of the Clarksburg Civic Association.
But Clarksburg is unfinished, as evidenced by the streets that dead-end in the middle of the community at land designated to be the retail core of Clarksburg Town Center. Other than a small shopping center and some pre-existing businesses on Route 355, there’s no retail yet in Clarksburg.
Even some public amenities, such as a library and an amphitheater, are still on paper.
“That’s where the disappointment is: People were expecting to walk to things sooner,” Fantle said.
There are larger stores not far away, to the south in Germantown and north in Urbana. But shopping options in Clarksburg have been curtailed, in part because the area master plan had prohibited retail development outside the town center area until 90,000 square feet of retail had been approved in the town center.
The county recently relaxed that provision, and residents hope a grocery store will be forthcoming.
County planners want to see a little more for the central area. “Town Center has to be different than a typical neighborhood retail center,” said John Carter, the county planning chief for Area 3, which includes Clarksburg. “We’ve set the bar pretty high, but that’s okay,” he said, adding that it would be better to wait for quality.
Clarksburg’s residential development has had some setbacks. In 2005, a group of residents called attention to building violations in the community, including homes that were too tall and too close to the street. The resulting controversy involving residents, county planners and developers was followed a few years later by the economic recession.
County planners announced in October that Elm Street Development, the primary developer of one of the neighborhoods, Clarksburg Village, would buy the rights to develop Town Center from the current owner. Elm Street will now be responsible for the retail portion of the project and 300 future residential units.
John Clarke, regional partner for Elm Street Development, noted that his company had been working in the area for 27 years and was looking forward to the opportunity. “We know Clarksburg very well,” he said. But Clarke acknowledged challenges with the project, which includes road improvements and a parking structure, and he noted that today’s economy is less favorable for development.
In the meantime, Clarksburg residents say the promise of the community is worth battling the commuter traffic on Interstate 270. Matt Bloye, who was visiting a neighborhood playground in Clarksburg Village with 2-year-old daughter Lily on a recent Saturday, said he and his wife, Su, like the idea of having a newly built home in Montgomery County. The Bloyes, who work in Northern Virginia, live near a park next to a planned elementary school site. “Hopefully, it will be ready in two to three years, just in time for her to start,” said Matt Bloye, 36, as Lily happily played on the sliding board.
The new elementary school has been pushed back to 2014 for budgetary reasons, said Donna Pfeiffer, a former Clarksburg school cluster coordinator. A new middle school and an addition to Clarksburg High School are also coming to handle the influx of students.
Betty Forrest, 71, moved from Long Island to be closer to her grandchildren, who attend local schools. She serves as president of her Clarksburg condominium association. “I guess I’m like the mother hen,” she said, noting that many of the condo residents are younger, with children. Forrest’s unit is one of the biggest: about 2,000 square feet, with three bedrooms and three baths.
The housing market remains active in Clarksburg, said Melissa King of Re/Max Realty Services, who lives in the Arora Hills neighborhood with her husband and three children. There were more than 100 resales from November 2010 to November 2011, she said; in November 2011, the median asking price was $439,900.
Because the neighborhoods are all new, “so many people all moved in at the same time,” King said. That has helped Clarksburg become popular with families who take advantage of three regional parks, neighborhood pools and sports leagues for children, she said.
Longtime residents who were accustomed to rural Clarksburg had to adjust to the urbanization. The change occurred quickly for Joann Woodson, 82, whose family has lived in Clarksburg for generations. Snowden Farm Parkway, which connects the new neighborhoods, is named after her great-grandfather. Although change is good, Woodson said — “that’s progress” — it happened quickly. “It’s hard to get used to nothing but rooftops when you’re used to seeing nothing but treetops,” she said.
Woodson, however, has reached out to the newcomers. She and others with the Clarksburg Historical Society have organized Clarksburg Day for the past 10 years to spotlight the community’s history, which dates to 1752.
Pfeiffer, who with her husband, Neil, has lived in Clarksburg for 20 years, says the community has always been close-knit. “What I loved about Clarksburg before the growth is still the same. It’s not so large that I don’t run into people I know. It still has that hometown feeling.”
Jim Brocker is a freelance writer.