A Montgomery County Planning Board hearing on problems at Clarksburg Town Center unraveled yesterday into a bitter confrontation between residents and attorneys for the developer, including accusations of missing documents, late-night e-mails and builders flouting the law.
After seven hours of testimony and rebuttal, the board found that the developer, Newland Communities, had violated site plans approved by the county by failing to provide tennis courts, pools, bike paths and other recreational amenities as promised.
But the board delayed a final vote on accusations that Newland failed to build moderately priced housing units, as required by the county, in agreed upon locations.
The day-long session was the first of two hearings planned for this month on the troubled northern Montgomery development. Once touted as a model for 21st-century suburban living, the town has become the focal point of a debate over whether the county can effectively manage its rapid growth.
A citizens group this year unearthed evidence that hundreds of new homes were too tall or too close to the street.
The county planner in charge of the project, Wynn Witthans, resigned in June after it was discovered that she had altered official plans so that they were consistent with the height of new buildings.
Newland and other builders on the project could face fines topping $1 million.
The hearing reflected long months of frustration on all sides of the dispute.
"The time for pandering to developer whims is over," said Amy Presley, a leader of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee, which brought some of the evidence to light. At times, her presentation to the five-member board took on a scolding tone.
"We have spent countless hours doing the job that your staff should be doing," she said.
Stephen Z. Kaufman, one of Newland's attorneys, complained that his client was being unfairly treated by the community group and the planning staff, which he said was engaging in "hindsight and reinterpretation." Presley's group, he said, was making "constant, broad allegations . . . without detail."
At one point, board member Meredith Wellington said she thought the board had not done its homework.
"In my opinion, the issues before us are very serious . . . and we need to conduct these hearings in a different, more searching way," Wellington said. "I believe the board should ask many more questions about the original documents, dates of documents and events and corroboration of documents."
Her comments were quickly rebutted by Derick Berlage, the board chairman, whose oversight of the agency is being scrutinized by members of the County Council and by the Office of Legislative Oversight. He said the panel had been paying close attention.
Berlage, who seemed taken aback by Wellington's remarks, said, "I agree with the seriousness of the charges, but I believe we have taken all the proceedings today and in the past equally seriously."
Later, when Wellington tried to question a Newland attorney, Berlage interjected: "Let him finish. Let him finish."
Wellington responded: "Excuse me. If I can't understand the document, neither can the people listening."
Much of the discussion yesterday involved the location of 57 moderately priced homes, required by the county as a condition of the project's approval.
Town residents say that Newland, without permission, changed the sites of the affordable units.
Newland attorneys countered that the planning staff, which in 1999 was given authority to make changes independently to approved plans, had agreed to different locations.
"Nothing in this entire case was done in [the] closet," said Kaufman, one of Newland's attorneys.
But Newland and planning officials acknowledge that there is virtually no paper trail backing up those claims.
There also are other documents relating to the case that neither Newland nor the Planning Board can find.
Presley described a meeting she had this week with Christopher J. Anderson, manager of single-family housing programs at the Department of Housing and Community Affairs. She said Anderson told her that he suspected there were violations in how the affordable units were located.
Presley then produced an e-mail sent to her at 12:09 yesterday morning from Anderson reversing his position, saying that there were no problems with how the units were constructed.
Newland attorneys said they never contacted Anderson to ask him to change his stance. Anderson was unavailable for comment.
With charges flying back and forth, officials on both sides predicted yesterday that the year-long dispute may be headed for the courts.
To prepare for that possibility, the planning department has hired outside legal counsel, the D.C. law firm of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP.
"If this reaches the matter of litigation, the commission intends to be well prepared," said Nancy C. Lineman, a spokeswoman for the Planning Board.
Staff writer Dan Morse contributed to this report.