For the second time in almost as many months, the Montgomery County Planning Board has sent developers of the Timberlawn subdivision back to the drawing board to grapple with a section of roadway less than 100 yards long.
Timberlawn, once billed as a future enclave of 294 pricey single-family homes on 95 acres, was rezoned for a denser 900-unit residential development last year after some 30 families paid $200,000 and up for homes that were constructed before the switch.
After months of negotiating with Timberlawn residents, the developer, U.S. Home, agreed to provide buffer zones between the existing large homes and the future town houses and to reroute a primary road that will link up Edson and Tuckerman lanes, which border the development, south of White Flint Mall.
The road, to be called Sugarbush Lane, will skirt the existing large homes up to the very tip of the subdivision, where developers plan to link it with Snowshoe, an existing road in the already established section of Timberlawn that leads out onto Edson Lane.
It is this link-up that has stymied the development, however, say Montgomery planners.
In December, U.S. Home submitted plans that showed Sugarbush as a primary road with a 70-foot right-of-way up to the point where it reached the existing subdivision. Here, the developer proposed to bottleneck the road into a 27-foot right-of-way between two existing houses until it linked with Snowshoe Lane, which has a 40-foot right-of-way.
The road itself would have gone from a paved surface 36 feet wide to a paved surface 26 feet wide, Charles Loehr, a county planner, said this week. He said there is a narrower right-of-way between the two houses because the road that was originally planned to run between them was to have been a short cul de sac.
The county planning board, which has final say on subdivisions, rejected the plans and suggested U.S. Home come up with a more suitable proposal for Sugarbush, he said.
Last week, when U.S. Home returned before the planning board, its spokesman proposed to use a 10-foot county easement to widen Sugarbush to a 36-foot-wide road between the two houses, which sold for over $200,000 each, Loehr said.
The planning board again turned down the subdivision plans, with board members saying it was unfair to run a major road through the two families' properties without giving them compensation.
"We thought our proposal had solved all the problems the board had with Sugarbush and it was completely within the zoning code," said Jon K. Ericson, division president of U.S. Home. "We are now assessing the overall situation, and I can't say much more than that at this time."
Ericson did say, however, that U.S. Home had contacted the owners of the two houses. "Of course their preference would have been to have a smaller road," he said.
The property owners could not be reached for comment this week.
Loehr said U.S. Home could bring the matter to court in an attempt to overturn the planning board ruling or could, once again, redesign the Sugarbush road plan.
"There are several things they could do," he said. "One suggestion is that they buy back one of the houses and run the road through there."
The county has not studied how many vehicles would use the Sugarbush road, said Richard C. Hawthorne, transportation planner for the county. And although the road will link Tuckerman and Edson lanes, he said it would probably not be used as cut-through by people who do not live in Timberlawn.
"It would have to be a real time saver to use Sugarbush, and currently there are other roads that are much faster," he said. "Sugarbush would mainly be used by residents within the subdivision."
However, the county has studied the possibility of setting up a county bus route that would pass down Sugarbush to the Rockville and White Flint Metro stations.
"It's very possible the county would set up a bus connection as a way to reduce the number of cars on the road," he said.
U.S. Home, which has spent almost two years negotiating and redesigning Timberlawn into a denser residential community, is expected to come back before the planning board sometime this spring.