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Timeline of events in planning of Clarksburg Town Center

Tuesday, January 12, 2010; B04

-- April 2005: Community activists alert county planners that plans for building heights at Clarksburg Town Center may have been altered to say "four stories" instead of the allowed 35 feet. The Planning Board rejects the claim, but later reverses itself and decides the plans were improperly revised by a staffer, who later resigns.

-- October 2005: In a series of hearings, the residents group Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee and the planning staff say developer Newland Communities failed to provide promised tennis courts, jogging trails and pools, and improperly relocated other amenities. The staff says these findings are "of grave concern." Newland and builders defend their actions.

-- November 2005: A Montgomery County Council audit finds that sloppiness and arrogance pervade the county planning process, creating a system in which staff and developers work together out of public view with little supervision. At a Planning Board hearing, the developer and builders of Clarksburg Town Center charge that the industry has been unfairly blamed for the government's failing.

-- December 2005: Council member Tom Perez (D) urges the developer and the advisory committee to enter mediation. The developer, builders and residents' group agree, and the issues are taken out of public view.

-- January 2006: The county planning department has fallen into disarray, with morale at an all-time low and staff members complaining that they are under pressure to approve projects quickly, says Royce Hanson, a nationally recognized land-use specialist at George Washington University. He calls for a top-to-bottom review, more oversight from the Planning Board and the council, and a swift decision on the fate of Planning Board Chairman Derick P. Berlage.

-- March 2006: Jennifer Russel is named Clarksburg ombudsman by County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D).

-- April 2006: Under a mediated agreement, Clarksburg residents win about $15 million in concessions from Newland and five builders to redesign the neighborhood and add retail, recreation and open space. Duncan, seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, averts imposing a controversial tax on Clarksburg residents to repay developers about $60 million for public improvements, and convenes a study group.

-- May 2006: Berlage decides not to seek reappointment to give his agency a "fresh start" after a year of controversy over the Clarksburg development and concerns about his leadership.

-- June 2006: Council appoints Royce Hanson to a four-year term as Planning Board chairman. He held the post from 1972 to 1981.

-- May 2007: The Planning Board raises questions about the repayment plan, saying the council might have erred when it gave preliminary approval six years earlier.

-- July 2007: County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) says that the repayment plan is legal but should be reduced to placate angry homeowners who say they learned about it only recently.

-- September 2007: The county's inspector general finds that the county has failed to carefully oversee at least $10 million in road projects in Clarksburg Town Center.

-- June 2008: A group of Clarksburg Town Center residents, saying they are weary of controversy, begin a petition drive backing a plan by Newland to rework sections of the new downtown. The move comes a few weeks after the Advisory Committee, which represented the community in closed-door mediation with Newland, files a lawsuit alleging that the company was failing to abide by a county-approved plan for the community's unbuilt retail core. Newland countersues.

-- Oct. 14, 2008: The council, voting 5 to 4, upholds the repayment tax, opening the way for the county to charge homeowners as much as $1,500 more a year. But a proposal to actually impose the tax is never made.

-- Nov. 6, 2008: The Planning Board holds a marathon session with Newland but is unable to agree on parking, landscaping and shop sizes. The board reminds Newland it could face fines of as much as $500 a day. A month later, the board approves a new plan.

-- December 2009: Planning staff finds more than 400 discrepancies between approved plans and what Newland says is its final submission, and threatens to impose fines.

-- Miranda S. Spivack

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