Friday, October 31, 2008

The Clarksburg Quagmire

If you don't know where Clarksburg is now, you can say you heard of it here first. Next week, the Montgomery County Planning Board (MCPB) will undertake a two session review of plans for, and potential approval of, the Clarksburg Town Center (CTC) that would see 1,213 units of housing dropped 35 miles northwest of the District.

The CTC is described by its developer, Newland Communities, as "a New American Classic Town" - one that was essentially dropped wholesale into a rural community when Phase I was undertaken in 2001 and brought approximately 1400 new residents to the area. Phase II, however, is a different animal. And despite the body blows to the real estate market and the general tanking of the "suburban town center" concept, the developer plans to see it through.

Aside from rental and homeownership housing, the linchpin of new development on the 270-acre parcel will be the retail hub. It will feature shopping, dining, a pharmacy, a grocery store (initially planned to be a Giant, but Newland has since parted ways with the retail developer behind the deal, Regency Centers) and the requisite parking – all amenities which are currently lacking in CTC’s present state. Extra perks also include the construction of a new public library, an outdoor amphitheater, a new 1,200 square foot recreation center, and, lastly - for that small town touch - a memorial in tribute to the town’s founding family, the Clarksburgs. Designs are being handled by Torti Gallas and Partners.

Over the past five years, Newland, the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee (CTCAC) and the MCPB have found themselves locked in a long and tedious stalemate – one that seems on the verge of breaking with next week’s decision.

While plans for the development stretch back 13 years, Newland stepped up in 2003 when it purchased the completed Phase I project from original developer, Terrabrook – after the initial Phase II plans had received the go-ahead from the County. Come summer 2004, CTCAC brought apprehensions about setback and height regulations before the Board, which subsequently held a string of violation hearings that stretched on for more than a year.

Eventually, the Office of Legislative Oversight was called in to review the case and identify exactly what was causing the protracted delays – and wound up faulting the MCPB itself in a surprising twist. According to their report, the Board had “sent confusing and mixed messages to the community, and failed to carry out a timely, thorough fact-based investigation.” Moreover, even the Montgomery County system was partially to blame as the CTC project was “subject to a regulatory process that lacked predictability and reliability” and “underlying ambiguities in the County’s laws.” The end result of the findings was a landmark for the Montgomery County regulatory system – since 2005, the County Council has had much stricter oversight of MCPB activities.

With that debacle finally settled, a final set of plans comes before the Board on November 6th and Newland is betting its chips on this hearing. Just weeks ago, Newland sent current CTC residents postcard mailers expressing the need for their support if the project is to get approval.

And it appears that it will. County staff have already conditionally approved the plan, and while the developer has yet to make a total figure for the cost of the development public, County Executive Isiah "Ike" Leggett has recommended a $15.5 million allotment of county funds that would go towards improvement of the local infrastructure and construction of the library. Bozzuto, Craftstar, Miller & Smith, NVHomes, and Porten Homes have already been selected as builders for the massive undertaking.


Anonymous said...

Those "county funds" you mention are not so "county"...they are a development district tax paid by the CTC homeowners for the next 30 years imposed by the county as a "gift" to the developer who was to foot the bill as part of its agreement with the county to build at higher than usual densities and to the benefit of the commuters who pass through Clarksburg on their way to DC and over a dozen neighboring communities who pay no development district tax.

DC knows about taxation without representation....Clarksburg residents know it now also - no resident had a say in the DD taxes and many were not informed and no one was fully informed as required by law.

Don't be surprised to hear more about DD taxes - their coming to every corner of MoCo that has major infrastucture improvements on their wish list, e.g. Rockville Pike, Purple Line supporting infrastructure, etc...

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