Kim Shiley just wanted to be able to walk to an upscale grocery store or a restaurant.
In the fall of 2003, Shiley was lured to the rolling countryside of Northern Montgomery County by promises that a new community would soon sprout. The plans for Clarksburg Town Center, she said, included a compact neighborhood built around fashionable stores and eateries.
It was, she thought, to be like Bethesda, Silver Spring or some of the neighborhoods of Northwest Washington.
"This is the type of community I always wanted to live in," Shiley said of the development, which at the time was a project of Terrabrook. "It seemed like a perfect mix of urban and rural."
Shiley, a nurse for the federal Public Health Service who paid $350,000 for her townhouse, soon had a crush of neighbors. In the past five years, Clarksburg's population has nearly tripled, to 5,500.
Amy Presley, 42, moved into a single-family house she bought for a half-million dollars. Lynn Fantle, 35, got her four-bedroom house for $400,000. Tim DeArros, 42, bought a townhouse for just under $300,000. Niren Nagda, 59, paid $430,000 for his townhouse, and Carol Smith, 50, paid $415,715 for hers.
"We were just under the impression that this would [have] cute little shops, and it was a big draw for us," Smith said.
But when these residents saw a threat to their vision of how the community should look, Smith and the others formed the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee.
Although Montgomery County has some 1,200 active community and neighborhood associations, few can match the Clarksburg committee in forcefully taking on the county bureaucracy.
Longtime civic activists say the committee is responsible for the worst crisis to face the Montgomery County planning system in decades.
"I think they are unsung heroes, it is that simple," said Cari Lamari, past president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation.
County Council member Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty) also applauded the group's efforts. "They spent a lot more time and did a lot more work than I think any community should ever be expected to do," he said. "But because they did, they exposed some real problems in our system."