Duncan Appoints Clarksburg Ombudsman

In addition to finding zoning violations at Clarksburg Town Center, residents have been angered by the lack of amenities promised by the builder.
In addition to finding zoning violations at Clarksburg Town Center, residents have been angered by the lack of amenities promised by the builder. (By Michael Temchine For The Washington Post)
By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) yesterday named former Gaithersburg planning director Jennifer Russel to the newly created position of Clarksburg ombudsman.

Duncan promised last year to create the post after lax county enforcement of building plans was discovered at Clarksburg Town Center, a community of 1,300 homes rising northeast of Germantown.

Russel's job will be to help the residents of Clarksburg get "the community they were promised and still deserve," according to a statement from Duncan's office. She will be paid $100,000 annually.

Last year, a community group found that buildings in Clarksburg had been built too tall and too close to the street and that the neighborhood lacked promised amenities. The group has been engaged for several months in mediation with the developer and builders.

Russel, 55, is the fourth person brought in to help manage the aftermath of the Clarksburg controversy. Last year, the County Council retained former Planning Board chairman Royce Hanson, a noted land-use expert from George Washington University, to advise them on improving the planning process. And the Department of Park and Planning has also expanded.

"I hope to be a conduit for the community and help them get the community they had expected to get," Russel said yesterday.

Duncan, who will formally unveil his $3.9 billion budget today, also yesterday detailed plans to strengthen enforcement of zoning and building regulations, including $1.5 million in new funds to add building inspectors to the Department of Permitting Services.

Duncan also said he will ask the County Council to approve about $72,000 for two new positions at the Department of Housing and Community Affairs to monitor enforcement of agreements builders have signed to construct moderately priced homes.

Despite Duncan's efforts to manage the Clarksburg fallout, many county residents say they are eager for more protections.

The Greenwich Forest Citizens Association in Bethesda called a news conference yesterday to demand a six-month moratorium on demolition of homes in older neighborhoods, where they say so-called McMansions are proliferating.

Association leaders said the huge new homes detract from the dozens of architecturally unique homes dating from the 1930s.

"Longtime homeowners are forced either to live in the shadow of these huge structures or sell to speculators, and the process repeats itself down the block, " said Steve Burks, the group's president. The Tudor-style community of 90 homes is about a mile from the Bethesda Metro.

The association's demand prompted anger from Niki Leibovitz, who had stood quietly until the end of the news conference. Her husband, Phil, who is a builder, has a permit to demolish a house on Hampden Lane in Greenwich Forest. She said the group was "unfair" and ignoring her husband's efforts to answer concerns over the couple's plan to build a 4,000- to 5,000-square-foot home.

Other homes in the neighborhood are about a quarter of that, said Brent Weingardt, who is rallying community opposition.

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

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