One of the builders of Clarksburg Town Center, aware that some houses were built too close to others, asked Montgomery officials this spring to change documents so that they reflected what had been built, according to county records.
An attorney for Craftstar Homes wrote to planning officials in April asking that they "surgically" modify the town center's site plan before the Planning Board took up allegations that builders in Clarksburg violated setback requirements.
The request was denied. But the letter from Timothy Dugan to Rose Krasnow, chief of the planning department's development review division, offers a new view into how developers tried to influence the agency's assessment of building violations in the northern Montgomery community.
The letter, dated April 20, was sent one week after the Planning Board ruled that there were no building height violations in Clarksburg. At that hearing, senior planner Wynn Witthans produced what turned out to be an altered site plan that made it appear as if the builders had complied with height limits.
In his letter, Dugan asked Krasnow, Witthans's direct supervisor, to make changes to address the setback issues.
"Just as the planning staff exercised its authority to modify the site plan for building heights, we request that the planning staff surgically amend side street setback," Dugan wrote. The letter was released in response to a request by The Washington Post under the Maryland Public Information Act.
Dugan stated in the letter that 10 homes were built with setbacks less than the 10 feet required under the original plan.
To resolve the issue, he urged Krasnow to make "a minor amendment" to the site plan so that homeowners could "avoid unnecessary hardship, inconvenience and trouble."
Dugan declined to comment. Representatives of Craftstar Homes did not return calls for comment yesterday. Krasnow was on vacation and could not be reached.
Derick Berlage, chairman of the Planning Board, said Dugan's request was denied. But Berlage added that he believes Dugan was within his rights to request the amendment because, at the time, the planning staff had the authority to change site plans.
In Clarksburg Town Center, planners had been given broad authority to make changes to approved plans without having to go back to the board. Developers and builders contend that planners exercised that authority.
Since Witthans's admission that she altered the site plan -- a legally binding document that sets dimensions for height and setback -- Berlage has curtailed staff members' ability to make changes to approved plans.
Multiple investigations have also been launched.
The county inspector general is looking into whether the county's oversight of construction at Clarksburg involved fraud. The state special prosecutor is investigating possible wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, the county's Office of Legislative Oversight wants more time to finish its probe of the matter. The investigation was due to be completed next month, but County Council President Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) said yesterday that it won't be finished until November.
The Montgomery County Civic Federation outlined eight instances yesterday, including the one involving Clarksburg Town Center, in which it believes developers violated approved standards. The organization recommends the creation of a new county agency, the Office of Site Plan Investigation and Enforcement, to oversee development.
In July, the Planning Board ruled that the developer of Clarksburg Town Center, Newland Communities, and four builders -- Craftstar Homes, NVR Inc., Miller & Smith and Bozzuto Homes -- erected 433 townhouses that exceeded the 35-foot limit established in the original site plan and one condominium taller than the 45 feet approved by the county. The board also found about 100 new townhouses too close to the street.
The July hearing was held after it became apparent that Witthans, who resigned two months ago, had altered the site plan shortly before the April hearing on the height issue.
Townhouses and single-family homes in the new development were supposed to be no higher than 35 feet. Witthans scratched out 35 feet on a site plan data table signature set and replaced it with "four stories."