San Diego Union Tribune

November 22, 2005

La Jolla developer gets a history lesson in rural Maryland
Work to capture town's past is flawed, some say

By Joe Cantlupe

ROCKVILLE, Md. – It was supposed to be a development to reflect a small town's rich heritage dating to 1752.

It would be a classic Maryland town: a church spire in the middle of 248 acres, amid a 1,300-home development that would more than double the population of Clarksburg, which is about 30 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.

But something went awry.

Some homeowners have found what they term major flaws in the Clarksburg Town Center development being carried out by Newland Communities of La Jolla.

The homeowners say the church spire isn't in the middle of town as planned. Also, some proposed streets disappeared, and many homes were built too close to streets.

A pedestrian walkway that was to connect the town center to a historic district was eliminated, residents say, and some streets are so narrow firetrucks can't pass.

"The picture is not pretty. Widespread violations, ignored by site plan enforcement staff, (were) uncovered only after heroic efforts by citizens to understand what went wrong," said David Brown, an attorney for the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee, the group of homeowners upset with the plans.

Newland insists that changes to the development plan received the proper approvals.

The developer purchased the town center from a previous developer, Terrabrook, in 2003. The development, which has been ongoing for about a dozen years, is about 70 percent complete. Clarksburg, in Montgomery County, has a population of more than 1,000.

"Most of the questioned activities occurred during the Terrabrook ownership period," said Douglas C. Delano, vice president of operations for Newland's Mid-Atlantic region.

The plan "received all appropriate approvals and that the constructed project is in compliance with county administrative and planning board approvals," Delano said.

Newland Communities has major projects under way in Southern California, including 4S Ranch, a 4,700-unit development in Rancho Bernardo. It's estimated there will be 15,000 residents in 4S Ranch when it is completed in a decade.

Newland also has Paseo del Sol, a 3,000-home project in Temecula.

The project in Maryland has been beset by controversy.

Some residents blame Newland and the county for failing to craft a proper plan, saying the developer has been allowed to circumvent rules.

The county's inspector general and a state prosecutor are reviewing the allegations involving the Clarksburg Town Center, which includes single-family homes priced around $500,000 as well as town houses and condominiums.

The county says planning documents have been missing or misplaced, and a former planner said she had received false information regarding the project.

Montgomery County is considering fines against Newland and the builders.

"We have information . . . that the residents of Clarksburg were let down, and they deserve to see some action, And they deserve to see it now," said Douglas M. Dunchan, the county's chief executive.

Karen A. Orlansky, director of the Office of Legislative Oversight in Montgomery County, found problems in the planning process.

She said Newland contributed to them by "submitting documents that contained errors." She also said the developer's site plan was a "significantly flawed document."

Delano of Newland said Orlansky's report "confirmed that the developers and home builders received county approvals for the construction."

But the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee is not satisfied with the Orlansky report and wants a thorough inquiry.

The Clarksburg Town Center was supposed to be reminiscent of 18th and 19th century American and European towns. The design featured narrow streets and alleys.

The advisory committee said in a report that "streets have been eliminated or re-routed to the detriment of the plan."

"Other proposals also have been changed or removed from the plan, including a pedestrian mews from the town center to the Clarksburg United Methodist Church, an amphitheater, multiuse playground, ponds and certain recreation facilities," the report said.

Brown, the committee's attorney, said removal of "these fundamental features constitutes a grievous loss to the town center and the Clarksburg community at large.

Newland disagrees, Delano said, expressing hope the county will implement changes deemed necessary.

He wants the county to embark on its plans and "soon turn the project from a construction site into a finished community."

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