Clarksburg Town Center developer fined for unapproved changes

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010

The Montgomery County Planning Board, citing more than 400 unauthorized changes to plans for Clarksburg Town Center's unbuilt downtown, fined the developer $22,000 Thursday, even as company officials said they had scuttled the changes and would stick with an agreement hammered out a year ago.

In proposing the penalties, a rarity for the county planning agency, Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson said the developer, Newland Communities, had "made changes from the original drawings that were . . . direct contradictions" of what the board had ordered.

Hanson took the reins of the planning department four years ago after the agency was widely criticized for lax oversight of development.

Robert Kronenberg, the planner who found the unauthorized changes, told Newland in December that it appeared that the company had made the changes to "impede progress," a view he reiterated Thursday.

Among the unauthorized changes were the addition of duplex houses in areas where none were planned; a failure to note that the company was supposed to build a parking lot for a new county library; a reduction of about 14,000 square feet in the amount of planned retail space; and the deletion of design elements such as brick sidewalks, bluestone paving and granite edging in some public areas.

Newland Vice President Douglas C. Delano said the project's complexity and the company's use of multiple consultants had led to errors and inconsistencies in the plans, which the company submitted in October.

"We certainly did not intend to create controversy. We want to obtain compliance," he told the Planning Board. "We really want to see it done."

The penalties brings the Clarksburg saga a step closer to a resolution, but some major disputes remain.

The area around Clarksburg faces environmental scrutiny from state and county regulators, and the county government has not resolved a dispute over who should pay for roads and a new library.

Additionally, Newland had sued community activists who unearthed the construction irregularities in the northern Montgomery development more than five years ago, saying that they were thwarting the development.

The $22,000 fine is relatively small compared with the more than $1 million in fines the Planning Board threatened five years ago because of the original problems with the Clarksburg Town Center plans. But in a mediated agreement with community activists, Newland agreed to make about $15 million in improvements, create a walkable town center and install missing design elements, landscaping and other features. The details of that agreement were what the board was scrutinizing Thursday.

Hanson's proposed $22,000 in penalties was half of what the board could have imposed, but it appeared that Newland was willing to agree to that amount and would not challenge it in court. His insistence on fining Newland was backed by board members Joseph Alfandre and Marye Wells-Harley. Board member Amy Presley, one of the activists who found irregularities at Clarksburg Town Center five years ago, recused herself from all matters affecting the community.

Jim Humphrey, chairman of the Montgomery County Civic Federation's land-use committee, said he was disappointed by the process.

"I am astounded at Newland's failure in October to have filed plans that accurately reflect the board's approval. And the board's level of fine, half of what they could have assessed, does not send a clear message that this is unacceptable behavior," he said. "If you want to send that message, the law needs to be changed and the fines increased."

Lynn Fantle and Kim Shiley, who with Presley were among the original Clarksburg activists, declined to comment on the penalties, but they said they welcomed the news that Newland will move to complete the town center.

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