"I was naive," said Joseph P. Clancy of the three years it took for Montgomery County to approve the 211-acre Washingtonian Center, now under way along I-270 between Gaithersburg and Rockville.

"Based on similar-size projects I handled in Chicago, I thought it would take about half the time."

Although zoning was approved in November, Clancy said the firm was unable to start work until now. "Until a few weeks ago, we were waiting for the county to reach decisions on several proposals, such as building permit caps, excise taxes, input fees."

Work has begun on the "infrastructure" -- internal roads, sewage lines and the like -- and ground is scheduled to be broken on the first phase of the project in the fall. The center, which will include a Marriott hotel, office buildings, a lake and garden apartments, received a new zoning classification from Montgomery County for mixed-use planned development.

The principal concern of city and county officials and citizens who opposed the project was traffic -- already heavy on I-270 during rush hour. The project was dubbed "Rockburg" by officials who complained that it went against the county plan designating Gaithersburg and Rockville as centers of growth surrounded by low-density development.

But the Washingtonian Center finally won approval after county council members formed a two-stage development plan tied to road construction. "This county is traffic-driven, and I don't think that's a bad thing," said Clancy, senior vice president of Ackerman & Co., the developer. "We wouldn't have entered into this project without those roads."

Road development will include the widening of I-270 to 12 lanes between Shady Grove Road and Rte. 28, the improvement of the Shady Grove interchange, construction of Omega Drive and Samuel Eig Highway, completion of I-370 and the widening of Fields Road.