By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 9, 2006
An agreement reached last week among the developer, builders and residents of Clarksburg Town Center could settle their year-long feud, but is unlikely to stop investigations into why Montgomery County allowed houses to be built in violation of zoning laws.
Montgomery Inspector General Thomas J. Dagley said he is continuing to examine issues linked to Clarksburg, where a group of residents unearthed building irregularities in the development of 1,300 homes near Germantown.
"Clarksburg remains a very active investigation for us, and rightfully so," Dagley said. "We are committed for the long haul . . . and our timetable is very different than others', such as those who have a goal for the mediation process."
Sources with knowledge of Dagley's inquiry said the issues include whether some documents submitted to the county may have been falsified or have contained inaccurate information.
State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh launched an investigation into the Clarksburg development last year but has declined to comment on its scope.
At least two top officials resigned in the past year from the county Department of Park and Planning, and the agency's top lawyer said last week that she will resign within days.
Under the mediated agreement disclosed Thursday night, Clarksburg residents appear to have won millions of dollars in concessions from the developer, Newland Communities, and five builders to dramatically redesign the neighborhood and add retail, recreation and open space.
The deal was brokered by mediator Barbara Kerr Howe, a former Baltimore County circuit judge, and outlined by architect John Torti at a Montgomery planning board meeting. The board will hold a public hearing April 20.
Howe declined to discuss most details and barred participants from answering questions.
The total number of homes at Clarksburg Town Center will not change as a result of the agreement, but the mix of units might. One plan described by Torti, who was hired to help with the mediation, would eliminate a four-story condominium building; some of those units would be redistributed, possibly to smaller "live-work" apartments housed over street-level retail shops.
A county requirement that 12.5 percent of Clarksburg Town Center's homes be moderately priced also will be met by placing them throughout the development, rather than clustering them, according to the agreement. The locations are unclear.
At Thursday's meeting, planning board members suggested that money could be a sticking point. The board must decide, based on whatever information Howe provides, whether to drop plans to impose fines against the developer and builder for constructing more than 100 homes too tall and too close to the street, and for failing to provide some promised amenities.
"I need to see all the details of the plan, and I believe we will need to understand the additional cost," said board member Meredith Wellington, a frequent critic of her colleagues' decisions to collect fines without also compelling developers and builders to admit wrongdoing.
"We are in the public now," she told Howe.
Howe warned the planning board to pay careful attention to as-yet undisclosed financial agreements, or risk killing the deal.
"We hope the board understands if there are significant changes to the plan of compliance in a monetary way, it may be likely the plan will not go forward," she told the board Thursday night.
Council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring), who had pushed to remove the case from the planning board and give it to a mediator, said the board could still tweak it. "It was always clear that it was going to be a proposal that the board was free to accept, reject or modify . . . and it was not something they would pass on without public input," Perez said.
Some Clarksburg residents, who did not participate in the mediation but will be affected by the outcome because they live nearby, expressed concerns about secrecy.
"I hope that nothing like Clarksburg happens again," said Kathie Hulley, who chairs the planning committee for the 100-member Clarksburg Civic Association. "You can't undo the violations, but we can't find out what happened, because no one is allowed to speak out."
Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.