Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage apologized yesterday to Clarksburg residents, saying "no one is more upset than I am" about construction irregularities unearthed by residents in the northern Montgomery County community and ignored for months by county officials.
"The citizens of Clarksburg deserve a beautiful community, and we will make sure they get what they were promised," he said.
Although it wasn't Berlage's first apology to residents, it was his most public, made during a regularly scheduled meeting with a County Council committee and observed by reporters and a few residents. "I thought it needed to be done," he said.
When told of the apology, Amy Presley, a leader of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee, which found the problems at the development, said she was not impressed. "I am tired of hearing posturing and excuses," she said. "I don't need a pocket full of apologies. We need someone to say what is really going on here and enforce the law."
Berlage, she said, "is still unwilling to admit what the real issue is. . . . The developer broke the law."
County Council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large), chairman of the committee Berlage addressed yesterday, said the planning leader's statement "was a stand-up position acknowledging that mistakes were made. . . . He knows there needs to be changes, and he seems to be making a concerted effort to make those changes."
Berlage yesterday outlined steps the planning agency is taking to tighten oversight and enforcement of development. After months of finding nothing amiss, the Planning Board in July ruled that hundreds of homes are too tall and too close to the road and to neighbors' homes. The board is reviewing other claims of irregularities and will hold a hearing Thursday.
Berlage also used yesterday's session with the council's Committee on Planning, Housing and Economic Development to deny allegations by Montgomery's inspector general, Thomas J. Dagley, last week that the county Department of Park and Planning was not cooperating with requests for information. "We have worked diligently to meet his requests" and similar requests from the council's investigative arm, Berlage said.
Berlage's comments came a few days before the Planning Board resumes its review of allegations that developers and builders at Clarksburg Town Center ignored regulations and persuaded planners to change specifications without sufficient legal authority and, in some cases, without notifying the board. His remarks also precede an imminent report by the council's investigative arm, expected to be critical of the agency.
Attorneys for the developer, San Diego-based Newland Communities, said their client received approvals from the board and its staff to change plans for the 1,300-home development. They have characterized the changes not as major overhauls, but as minor amendments not subject to wider, public review.
Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.