The developer of Clarksburg Town Center violated fire safety regulations by building some roads too narrow for emergency vehicles to maneuver, Montgomery County officials acknowledged yesterday.
The announcement comes more than a year after residents of the troubled housing development near Germantown began pressing officials about delayed response times from nearby fire stations. They said that plans the county approved in the mid-1990s showed wider streets but that they were largely ignored as the town center was built.
Thomas W. Carr Jr., chief of Montgomery's Fire and Rescue Service, said the county has found approximately 15 fire-code violations affecting 122 homes. The problems include improperly cut curbs and on-street parking that prevents trucks from getting as close to the homes as required by law. He did not rule out the possibility that some residential streets may need to be widened.
In a letter yesterday to Clarksburg residents, Carr said the county has asked the developer, Newland Communities, for "immediate corrective action." He added that the fire service has found other ways of reaching the affected homes, so no one is at risk.
Douglas C. Delano, a Newland vice president, said the company was surprised by the findings. "We have copies of letters from Fire and Rescue saying they were built according to the plans. For them to now in effect change their mind seems a little strange." Newland and county officials will meet next week to review the county's findings, he said.
Carr's letter is the latest confirmation of problems in Clarksburg, which has become the focus of a roiling public debate over the county's ability to oversee rapid growth and enforce regulations. After months of saying that nothing was amiss, the Montgomery Planning Board ruled July 7 that hundreds of houses were too tall and too close to the road or neighbors. In August, the Department of Permitting Services and the Department of Parks and Planning agreed to stop issuing building permits at Clarksburg pending further review.
Clarksburg residents are pressing their complaints in a series of hearings before the Planning Board that will resume tomorrow.
First word of the fire-code violations came from County Executive Douglas M. Duncan at a morning meeting with a group of Clarksburg activists. It was Duncan's first face-to-face session with the residents, who have been pressing the county about the community that will comprise about 1,300 houses, and it came hours before a meeting among the activists.
"We have a lot of work to do," said Duncan, a candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Duncan has remained largely aloof from the Clarksburg issue, in part because one of the two agencies involved -- the Department of Park and Planning -- reports not to him but the County Council. He said he felt compelled to step in "because of a lack of progress being made on these issues by Park and Planning and Newland Communities."
Amy Presley, a leader of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee, said that she was pleased that Duncan had announced fire-code violations but that he needs to go further. "You can still fix every nook and cranny, but if you don't state that violations will not be tolerated, we will in five years, in 10 years be experiencing the same climate and another citizens group will be in here with the same complaints."
Duncan also announced the planned Nov. 21 opening of an interim fire station near Clarksburg and said that the county plans to activate a traffic light on Route 355, which the community has sought to help alleviate traffic jams. Duncan said a freeze on building permits will continue because Newland has not yet signed a new agreement with the county's housing department reflecting its delayed timetable for moderately-priced homes to be built at Clarksburg Town Center.
The council's investigative arm is expected to issue a report within the next week that is likely to highlight deficiencies in the county's planning, permitting and zoning processes. The state prosecutor is also looking into allegations of violations at Clarksburg Town Center, as is the county's inspector general.