Montgomery County officials have tentatively concluded that a developer building homes in Germantown and Bethesda violated county-approved plans and constructed them too close to property lines.
The findings emerged from an ongoing review of 118 projects approved since 2003. The assessment began this summer after the county's Planning Board found numerous violations at Clarksburg Town Center. About half the projects have been analyzed to see whether developers violated approved plans.
The board, which had said for months that there were no violations in Clarksburg, ruled July 7 that 433 townhouses and one condominium apartment building are higher than allowed. It also found that 102 homes are closer to the road than permitted by plans.
Potential violations in two other projects were briefly noted in a letter sent Friday to the County Council by Derick P. Berlage, chairman of the Planning Board. Berlage said "preliminary findings suggest potential violations" at the Bethesda Crest townhouses near the naval hospital and a garden apartment development at the site of a once-popular restaurant, the Cider Barrel, on Route 355 in Germantown. Both are being built by Elm Street Development.
The letter provided no other details and said more information would be available to the council in a coming report.
Robert Hubbard, head of the county's Department of Permitting Services, which handles building permits and some inspections, said the alleged violations at the Bethesda townhouse development, where homes are on the market for more than $1 million, include buildings too close to the rest of the neighborhood. Residents complained to the county for months about possible violations of height, setback and other requirements.
Hubbard said allegations that the buildings in Bethesda are taller than approved are being checked. He said Elm Street has approached the county to see whether it will be allowed to amend its site plan for the Bethesda townhouses.
At the Cider Barrel development, an apartment complex where rentals start at more than $1,000 a month, the allegations involve garages that were built 14 feet from the street, not the required 15 feet, Hubbard said.
Berlage's letter to the council, timed to arrive as members return from a month-long recess, focuses primarily on steps the agency has taken or will take that he believes will improve county oversight of the development process.
He said he has increased the number of staff in the development review division, which has been at the center of the Clarksburg controversy. A planner there acknowledged this year that she altered documents, which then made it appear that approved building heights in Clarksburg were consistent with what was built.
Berlage said he has transferred two planners to the division from elsewhere in the agency and is borrowing a third from the Prince George's County Planning Department. That brings to 15 the number of planners in development review, his spokeswoman said.
Berlage also said in his letter that the agency has transferred three building inspectors to development review, which doubles their ranks, his spokeswoman said.
The department also is planning to forbid its staff to change documents 14 days before public hearings. That is to take effect this month.
"This will also help ensure that involved community members are not caught off guard by last minute changes routinely requested by developers," Berlage said in his letter.
The agency also is trying to improve record-keeping and put more documents online to make them more accessible and understandable to nonexperts, according to Berlage.
The permitting office and the planning department have begun requiring developers to certify that projects meet all approved plans before building permits can be issued. That is causing developers of 199 pending projects to resubmit their applications. About 10 percent have been resubmitted. Late last month, building permits were issued for those applicants, Hubbard said.