Dan Wilhelm is president of the 80-year-old Montgomery County Civic Federation, an umbrella group of civic and community organizations. Wilhelm, a telecommunications consultant who lives in Colesville, has been active in the county's civic affairs since 1979. He spoke with staff writer Miranda S. Spivack about government oversight of development in Montgomery.
QHow is Montgomery County managing growth? Where does it stand in comparison with others in the region?
AThe Civic Federation has been unhappy for decades and has repeatedly testified that we don't object to growth directly, but certain criteria must be met as a condition for allowing growth. Transportation and school infrastructure needs to exist before, or at least concurrent with, the development. This has not been happening. Roads are getting more congested and schools more crowded. Two years ago, the County Council removed the test in the Annual Growth Policy that places a moratorium on new development when infrastructure does not exist or is not funded for construction. . . .
Do you think the situation in Clarksburg is an isolated episode or, as some have suggested, the tip of an iceberg?
The height and setback violations in Clarksburg are deplorable and the Planning Board should have kept them from occurring. It took the citizens a long time and a lot of detailed work and persistence to get the Planning Board to act. The staff initially ignored citizen complaints, which is how they have reacted to citizens from throughout the county over the years. Even after zoning violations became obvious in Clarksburg, it took the Planning Board and staff approximately 11 months to take definitive actions. . . .
We don't believe the Clarksburg zoning violations are an isolated incident, but [they] could very well be the most grievous. We believe that small violations have been occurring for a long time and that since there has been no enforcement penalties, the number and degree of violations have just grown over time. The planning process has taken a back seat to the County Council and county executive's push for more development.
What should the county do to prevent future Clarksburgs?
Preventive action needs to wait until September and October for the various investigations to be completed. Depending upon the outcome of those probes, we are thinking that state legislation may be needed
What other issues are you focusing on these days?
We feel that large [campaign] contributions received by some council members and the county executive give developers undue influence [on] legislation.
The Civic Federation has opposed the intercounty connector as causing too much environmental damage and costing too much. We have proposed $7.8 billion in transit and road improvements that will be needed even if the ICC is built. We also have been active in school issues, and especially moves by the school board to give up land we feel will be needed in the future for school needs.
A new issue that is just coming to the radar screen is the issue of group homes for disturbed teens. One is proposed for Colesville. There are already a number of such group homes in Prince George's County that lack proper management and oversight by the state. This is the current Clarksburg type of problem, but at the state level.