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With clean water controversy, options for Peterson Cos. are drying up in Clarksburg

One thing after another has gone wrong for developer Milt Peterson in Clarksburg, and now he and his company are probably down to their last chance to salvage a deal there.

Fairfax-based Peterson Cos. started planning development for 98 acres in the Ten Mile Creek area of Clarksburg years three years ago, but despite spending $1.5 million on the project, the company says it will likely walk away from it if a proposal before the Montgomery County Council passes next week.

Trouble first began after company advanced a plan for the property and county officials determined that the project required an amendment to the area’s master plan, pushing the project back.

Then plans for a hospital by AdventistCare fell through nearby and competitors, Streetscape Partners and New England Development, beat out Peterson’s effort to buy it. Those companies are now preparing to break ground and open an outlet center by 2016.

The Peterson Cos., meanwhile, have run into deep-seated concern about their project’s potential effect on the water quality in Ten Mile Creek. With the speedy approval of the other project, time is running out on the Peterson plan, and the company now says that under the environmental requirements the council is preparing to consider next week, it won’t be able to build anything at all.

The county is considering a sharp limitation on the amount of impervious surface to allow in Ten Mile Creek developments, due to the damage that storm water runoff can have on water quality and wildlife. The original Peterson plan for the property, known as the Miles-Coppola land for its original owners, called for 49 percent of its project to have impervious (or storm water producing) surfaces. The company later redesigned the project to 36 percent.

Last summer the county planning board recommended a 25-percent limit on the area and council committees settled on 15 percent, which is what the county is expected to vote on next week.

Taylor O. Chess, retail president for the Peterson Cos., said that with a 25 percent cap the company could still probably build a mix of housing. At 15 percent, barring a renegotiation of the company’s deal with the landowners, he said: “We would walk away.”

“At 15 percent there is not a viable way for us to develop a project there,” Chess said.

Chances for the county to consider raising the impervious surface limit for the land, referred to as the Miles-Coppola property, may rely on Council President Craig Rice (D-Upcounty), who represents Clarksburg. Rice said Tuesday that he planned to listen to his constituents at a planned town hall forum Wednesday evening and make a decision about whether to amend the proposal. He said was worried that the long-stalled town center project would suffer if nothing was built at Miles-Coppola.

“If that develops it could still somehow give support to town center. But the developer has already said they can’t do it at 15 percent so I could easily see them walk away from this deal. And who is going to now step in and say, ‘Okay I’ll develop at 15 percent?’ ” Rice said.

“This property could remain vacant for many years to come and I think [for other people] that’s part of the objective. I mean, let’s be clear, some people just don’t want to see anything happen here,” he added. 

Rice said he will make a determination this week about whether to try to raise the cap by garnering support from his colleagues.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz