Once again, residents give officials their Clarksburg wish list

Aug. 10, 2005
Susan Singer-Bart
Staff Writer

Unhappy with the results thus far, the residents of Clarksburg ­ both old and new -- tried once again Monday night to outline their unified vision for the fast-developing community.

Citing their hope for a walkable community that blends historic Clarksburg with the new Clarksburg, residents pointed to shortcomings in the town's growth that in recent weeks have generated controversy.

Development today is too dense, the town is growing too fast and roads, parks and other community facilities are not keeping pace, they said.

"We want a great community, a friendly community ­- everybody's got to start pushing," said Dale Ryan, a longtime Clarksburg resident.

Officials from every county agency involved in Clarksburg's development, the state House and Senate delegations for the area, and several members of the County Council attended Monday night's forum. The officials now are charged with returning in September with an action plan for achieving the vision.

Forum attendees were divided into small working groups. Groups were surprisingly unanimous in the problems they found and their ideas for fixing them. Most groups specifically recommended saving the historic Comsat building. Some suggested using it as a community library, others for offices. They also want Observation Drive extended along the master plan alignment so the King family house is not endangered.

"The good news is they love the master plan, the bad news is they don't love the way it's been implemented," said Derick Berlage, chairman of the Montgomery County Planning Board, afterwards.

"We want the community we were promised by the developer and salespeople," said Bernie Keller, a longtime Clarksburg resident, speaking for his group of new and old residents.

Salespeople and brochures have compared Clarksburg to Gaithersburg's Kentlands development, he said.

"Clarksburg will be a town of distinction, pedestrian-oriented, a crown jewel where history meets the 21st century," said Kim Shiley, co-chairwoman of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee. "We want Mayberry USA basically."

She spoke for a work group of residents who listed bicycle and walking paths, green schools, a recreation center, library, movie theater, grocery store, small retail stores and landscaping among the amenities needed to achieve the vision.

"Mayberry with a pub in it," added Chris Lorenzo, a Clarksburg Town Center resident.

His suggestion was greeted with cheers and applause.

"We're looking for a traditional look and feel," Lorenzo said.

The density of new homes and businesses needs to be balanced and of high quality, said resident D.W. Mills. "Clarksburg has a very distinct history ­- we also need to embrace the present," he said.

Berlage said after the meeting that the town center will have the parks, trails and green space promised. Clarksburg Local Village, Kings Local and Gateway Commons parks will open within a year, and the developer is scheduled to complete greenway trails through the Clarksburg Town Center development by the end of 2006, he said.

Some of the complaints residents have are due to the fact that construction is ongoing and people are having a hard time envisioning the end result, Berlage said. In the end the historic town and new communities will be linked by the yet-to-be-built retail project, he said.

"The entire county government is committed to making sure the master plan gets implemented and Clarksburg gets all the amenities its been promised and more," Berlage said.

Members of the small Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee discovered discrepancies between approved plans and what had actually been built in August 2004. They brought their concerns to the county's attention but were not taken seriously until this summer when a Planning Board staff member admitted altering documents to reconcile what had been built with what had been approved.

In July the board found hundreds of Town Center homes and condominium units in violation of height and setback requirements and it is looking into other alleged violations.

The board is scheduled to assess penalties against the Town Center developer and builders in September.

"Our community-based planning staff is sweeping through the community looking for every opportunity to enhance the amenity package," Berlage said.

Councilman Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said after the meeting that he hopes all county departments will work together on an action plan to see Clarksburg development meets the promises and that work progresses in orderly stages.

Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park was a member of the Planning Board that wrote the Clarksburg Master Plan.

"The jury is out [on the Town Center]," she said. "It's evolving. It's a community in the middle of being put together. ... I agree what has occurred does not reflect control. To date there's no obvious sense of ownership by anyone of Clarksburg."

Knapp and Floreen want the county to appoint someone to a senior position overseeing Clarksburg development issues, as it did in Silver Spring.