Montgomery County officials have told the developer of Clarksburg Town Center to stop work on about 80 lots in the troubled community while they examine new evidence that the lots as configured do not match approved plans.
In a statement released late yesterday, Department of Park and Planning officials said a "stop work order" will be posted at the northern Montgomery County community as early as this morning. The order -- the second issued at Clarksburg in recent months -- will prohibit Newland Communities, the developer, from moving earth, removing trees, paving or constructing residences, officials said.
The order appears to affect three undeveloped sections of the planned 1,300-home community, where about 760 homes have been built or are under construction -- and where hundreds of those homes were found to be built in violation of height and setback requirements.
Clarksburg residents brought those lapses to light this summer, and Montgomery leaders have responded by launching a review of 118 projects approved since 2003 in various parts of the county. About half the projects have been analyzed to see whether developers violated approved plans.
The planning department statement said that preliminary findings, brought by the same Clarksburg residents who unearthed earlier violations, show single-family home lots configured to be smaller than 4,000 square feet -- the minimum requirement. Some lots drawn on documents are as small as 3,640 square feet.
Planners also found an instance in which officials approved blueprints for five single-family homes to be built in one area, but documents later filed by the developer in Montgomery Circuit Court, as required by law, show eight homes there.
Rose Krasnow, chief of development review for the planning department, said Newland Communities contends that the county signed off on the changes. But the developer has not produced documentation to support its claim, Krasnow said.
The stop work order will remain in effect until at least Oct. 6, when the Planning Board is scheduled to hold a hearing to examine the latest allegations. A separate hearing to impose penalties for violations already uncovered has been delayed three times; it is now set for Nov. 3.
Planning Board spokeswoman Nancy C. Lineman said the developer needs to "devise a strategy" to ensure that it follows approved plans.
Stephen Z. Kaufman, an attorney for Newland, said he was waiting for specifics from the planning department before he could assess the impact of the stop work order.
Although stopping short of formally prohibiting home sales on the sites where work has been halted, planning officials have sent a letter to Newland indicating that "they do so at their own risk," Krasnow said.
On July 7, the Planning Board, which had said for months that there were no violations at the Clarksburg development, ruled 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.
A few weeks earlier, the planner assigned to the project, Wynn Witthans, resigned after she acknowledged altering the height specifications on the site plan to reconcile them to what had been built, officials said. Her boss, Park and Planning chief Charles Loehr, announced this month that he would retire by the end of October. The state prosecutor is investigating the problems, as is the county.