A Sept. 9 Metro story about the Montgomery County Planning Board incorrectly said that Columbus Day is a county holiday. County offices will be open Columbus Day, Oct. 10. (Published 9/13/2005)
The Montgomery County Planning Board spent several hours behind closed doors yesterday discussing developer violations at Clarksburg and financial problems at the Soccerplex, two of its biggest challenges in recent years.
As the five-member panel, back from a month-long summer break, shut its doors for nearly three hours, new allegations of builder impropriety in Clarksburg surfaced, including at least two dozen newly located plat records that don't match what was built or what was approved by the county.
The new information is from a group of residents who have tracked activity in Clarksburg. It comes as the Planning Board continues to assess the scope of potential builder violations of approved plans at Clarksburg Town Center. The community is under construction northeast of Germantown.
Plat records are significant because they define property boundaries and become part of the public record. Ownership documents such as land titles and deeds often refer to plat records to spell out property lines. Discrepancies between plat records, what is built and what is marked as a boundary by a surveyor could affect deeds and titles.
The board staff has been checking the plats for a few weeks and is still trying to determine their status.
Board Chairman Derick P. Berlage said closed sessions like yesterday's on Clarksburg and the Soccerplex don't occur frequently. "We never go into closed session without having legal advice ahead of time that the subject matter belongs in closed session," he said.
Later yesterday, with Berlage away to tend to a family matter, the board unanimously approved another closed session to discuss property purchases along the proposed route for the intercounty connector linking Laurel and Gaithersburg; problems at the financially struggling Soccerplex in Boyds; and unspecified personnel matters. Maryland law also permits those discussions without the public present.
At one point, the panel opened its discussion on the Soccerplex to the public, even though it did not say on its advance agenda that there would be a public session on the dispute between several soccer clubs and the county over fees and field use. Announcing plans for a closed session and then deciding to open it is allowed under Maryland law, though Berlage acknowledged it can cause confusion.
In another public act yesterday, the board set Oct. 10, which is Columbus Day and a county and federal holiday, for a public discussion of penalties in Clarkburg. The session, initially set for July 28, has been postponed twice.
The board ruled in July that developer Newland Communities and the four builders who are constructing Clarksburg Town Center built 433 townhouses and one condominium apartment building higher than allowed. The panel also found that 102 homes are closer to the road than permitted by plans.
Attorneys for the developer and the builders have said the board's own staff and other county officials knew all along what was happening. One staff member resigned after acknowledging that she had altered site plans to conform with what was built.