With it almost gone, a look back at 2005

Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005

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Dan Gross⁄The Gazette

The county Planning Board handed a blow to preservationists in April when it voted to deny historic designation to the former Comsat Corp. building Clarksburg. A lawsuit is pending.

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Susan Whitney-Wilkerson⁄The Gazette
Parishioners in Catholic churches across the county mourned the passing of Pope John Paul II in April. Ashley Zink, 8, was captured kneeling before a table with papal-themed books and photographs at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Damascus.

As the months go by, it’s easy to lose sight of the events of the past year. Here’s a look back at 2005 as we ready for a new year.


* Members of the Rocky Hill Middle School community were disappointed to hear the State Highway Administration say the school’s entrance from Route 355 does not meet state criteria for a traffic light.

* Tears mixed with smiles as family and friends lined the driveway of the Damascus Community Recreation Center Jan. 6 to wave goodbye to the men of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 115th Infantry. The 129 soldiers in the Maryland National Guard unit based in Olney were on their way to four months of training before going to Iraq.

* Tony Edghill, 40, was appointed director of the Damascus Senior Center on Jan. 1.

* Retail opportunities expand in the upcounty. Germantown Commons welcomes Bed Bath and Beyond, the first of several new big-box stores to open.

* The Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board sets its legislative priorities, focusing in part on legislation that would help bring an emergency facility to Germantown.


*Linda Panagoulis of Germantown was named director of the Damascus Community Recreation Center.

*The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission backs off plans to build a 195-foot microwave tower in Boyds after residents voice concerns.

*A female seventh-grader at Roberto Clemente Middle School in Germantown is sexually groped by a group of boys on a school bus. The incident results in school officials calling for greater awareness and oversight of student behavior on buses. Two boys were suspended.


*On March 21 the Montgomery County School Board followed the recommendations of a boundary study committee and School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast in setting set boundaries for Clarksburg Elementary School No. 7. The plan leaves boundaries for Cedar Grove Elementary School unchanged.

For the most part, the new school will draw students from Clarksburg communities east of Route 355, including the Clarksburg Town Center, Clarksburg Ridge, Parkside, the Highlands of Clarksburg and Clarksburg Village.

* Bernard ‘‘Buck” Diehl Gladhill, 96, of Damascus died March 23. A highly respected leader and businessman who was a founding member of the Damascus Volunteer Fire Department, Gladhill was laid to rest Monday after a fire department pumper carried his casket down Route 27 during a rain-soaked funeral procession.

Gladhill and his brother Upton started Gladhill Brothers, which sells farm machinery, in 1937. Gladhill was a founding and life-long member of the Damascus Volunteer Fire Department and the Damascus Lions Club. He was a charter member of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce and led the effort to bring public water to Damascus

* The fate of former Comsat building in Clarksburg was debated at the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission. A developer wants it demolished while others want it to receive historic designation.

* A Germantown emergency center is approved by the Maryland General Assembly 125-1. The facility will be constructed and operated by Adventist HealthCare.

* An HIV-positive Germantown man is convicted of raping two 14-year-old girls after they passed out in his apartment is sentenced to 66 years in prison. William N. Karanja, 34, formerly of the 13200 block of Bristlecone Way, received 40 years for two counts of second-degree rape, 20 years for two counts of second-degree sex offense and six years for two counts of knowingly attempting to transfer HIV.


* The death of Pope John Paul II stirred emotional reaction worldwide. In Damascus and across the upcounty, residents turned out in droves to mourn and celebrate his life and offer their vision for what qualities they wanted to see in a new pope.

* The Montgomery County Planning Board ruled April 14 that although some apartment buildings in the Clarksburg Town Center are taller than envisioned in the Clarksburg Master Plan, they are perfectly legal.

Residents of the Clarksburg Town Center, through an ad hoc group called the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee, discovered that despite notations in the master plan and original plans submitted by the first developer of the town center stating apartment buildings should be no taller than four stories or 45 feet, one already exceeds that height, another is under construction and two more are being planned.

The decision came after a Planning Board staff member testified she had changed documents to reflect height in stories instead of feet before the buildings were constructed.

* The Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission voted April 13 to declare the Comsat building and a portion of the grounds historic.

The 7 to 2 ruling was a victory for the Clarksburg and architectural communities and setback for the buildings’ current owner, LCOR, of Berwyn, Pa.


* The Morgan Group Inc., a Virginia developer, announced plans to shift its seven acres at the Washingtonian Center to residential use, envisioning a 475-unit upscale apartment complex. The developer opted to change the designation of the space, which had been slated for office use, because of concern over a lack of interest in large office spaces in Gaithersburg.

* A twin-engine plane drew headlines and television coverage when it flew into restricted airspace around Washington, D.C., and had to be escorted to the Montgomery County Airpark. Witnesses on the ground spotted the two F-16 fighter jets and a small Cessna airplane at around 6 p.m. May 23.

The plane had been scheduled to fly from Knoxville, Tenn., to the airpark but was struck by lightning during the flight, causing it to lose its electrical system, radio and identifying transponder.

* James Koutsos, an assistant principal at Seneca Valley High School, is named the principal of the new high school in Clarksburg.

* Clarksburg’s Super Seniors celebrated their 30th anniversary with a party.

Inactive members from as far away as Martinsburg, W. Va., joined active members of the group and representatives of the Montgomery County Department of Recreation. The weekly program is sponsored by the recreation department.

* Cordero David Miller, 18, of Germantown dies after being shot outside his home May 15. Police arrested a former neighborhood rival, Jemell Stanley Bobbsemple, 18, of Laurel, and charged him with first-degree murder.


* Another teen is murdered in Germantown. Ezekial ‘‘Oak” Babendrier, 18, of Damascus is stabbed outside a party. Three Germantown residents have been indicted in connection with the June 12 killing. Ryan Anthony Stinnett, 20, Tristen Michael Bryant, 18, and Davonte Odell Sharpe, 15, are all charged.

* The lid blows off a planning scandal in the county when a member of the Planning Board staff admits she altered documents relating the Clarksburg Town Center development. Center residents had reported suspected building height violations in the project but didn’t gain credibility with county officials until the staffer admitted changing documents to make them conform with what had been built.

* Parents heard from school officials details about altered plans for two new environmentally sensitive elementary schools in Clarksburg and Germantown. Higher construction costs have forced school officials to scale back some of the features parents had expected in Northwest Elementary No. 7 and Clarksburg Elementary No. 7. The schools will be nearly identical inside with different exteriors.

‘‘The assumption that these things don’t cost more was wrong,” said Richard Hawes, director of the county school system’s Department of Facilities Management. ‘‘We have a budget.”

A number of environmental features had been discussed with parents during the planning process, including special classroom lighting, which are now eliminated.

Clarksburg No. 7 will be built near King’s Pond off Stringtown Road. Northwest No. 7 will be built at Dairymaid Drive and Mateny Road.


* Police said nearly half of Montgomery County’s top 20 street gangs had taken root in Gaithersburg, Montgomery Village and Germantown, a contrast to more than a decade earlier, when areas closer to Washington, D.C., saw jumps in the numbers of such groups. One city detective called the Gaithersburg area ‘‘a gang hub for D.C.”

* Four environmental groups file notice of their intent to sue Dickerson’s Mirant power plant — the only such facility in the county — for exceeding the allowed level of nitrogen oxide emissions, a pollutant known to cause asthma and respiratory disease.

* Dr. John Kijak Jr. 54, of Damascus, died of pneumonia July 20 at the University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore. Kijak, who practiced family medicine in Damascus, had fought his own medical battles in the last few years.

He lived with insulin-controlled diabetes for much of his life, until developing a foot infection four years ago. The infection cost Kijak his kidneys. Kijak went on home dialysis, allowing him to hook himself up to a machine that worked while he slept and see patients and continue other normal activities by day.

Last July Susie O’Brien, a Damascus High School English teacher, gave Kijak one of her kidneys.

*The County Council voted to provide immediate funding for a temporary fire station in Clarksburg.

*The Planning Board held a marathon hearing on building violations in the Clarksburg Town Center feeling frustrated about the process.

While the Montgomery County Planning Board was unanimous in ruling Thursday that homes in the Clarksburg Town Center have been built in violation of required height and setback restrictions, it did not address other issues raised by residents.

* Despite an offer from world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli to update the Comsat building in Clarksburg free of charge, the Montgomery County Planning Board voted Thursday night against preserving it.

‘‘This was a low moment for historic preservation in Montgomery County,” said Historic Preservation Commissioner David Rotenstein after the hearing.

In a four-to-one vote, with Commissioner Meredith Wellington dissenting, the board decided the Comsat building is not worthy of historic designation and gave the building’s owner, Berwyn, Pa.-based LCOR, permission to demolish it. LCOR wants to tear down the building and build a mix of townhouses, apartments, retail buildings and offices on the 230-acre campus.

The county’s Historic Preservation Commission determined earlier this year that Comsat, which opened in 1969, was historically significant not only because of the early satellite work done there, but also because it was an early design work by Pelli, a master architect.


* A federal judge knocked 20 years off the sentence of Masoud Khan, a Montgomery Village man convicted in 2004 on federal terrorism charges. He and two other men were convicted of training for holy war abroad, and the case went back to trial after a Supreme Court ruling made some mandatory sentences, several of which applied to Khan, only advisory. Under the new sentence, he would serve life plus 45 years in prison, down from life plus 65.

* Upcounty residents complain of power and cable disruptions as Verizon installs fiber-optic cables to their neighborhoods. The county steps in and considers a stop-work order.

* County and library officials announce construction of the new Germantown library on Century Boulevard is behind schedule and the library won’t open until March 2006.

* Officials from every county agency involved in Clarksburg’s development, the state house and senate delegation representing Clarksburg and several members of the County Council attended Monday night’s forum called to hear about the community’s concerns and vision. Their job will be to return in September with an action plan for achieving the vision.

Old and new residents of Clarksburg described for county officials Monday night a vision for Clarksburg as a walkable community that blends the historic with the new.

* Damascus Elementary School and Baker Middle School have new acting principals for the year after the sudden loss of their principals. Rebecca Jones is acting principal at Damascus. Former principal Ken Williams resigned in July to take a job in Atlanta. Louise Worthington is the acting principal at Baker. Soon after school opened, former principal Betty Strubel was named director of school performance in the eastern county.


* Upcounty businesses, nonprofits and others did everything from donation-drives to car washes to shoe-collections and bake sales to help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

* Germantown’s fourth homicide makes community the most deadly in the county. Stephone Wiggins dies one week after a fight following a Seneca Valley and Northwest high school football game. Two teenagers are charged with his murder.

* Continuing woes a the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds come to light as six county soccer clubs threaten abandon play a the facility. The fall soccer season is salvaged after they sign a stop-gap deal with the Maryland Soccer Foundation.

* The state has agreed to install a traffic signal on Route 355 at the entrance to Rocky Hill Middle School and other locations on Route 355 to improve safety and traffic flow. Other state signal work includes modifying the signal at the intersection of routes 355 and 121 to allow safer turns onto Route 355 and approving a temporary signal for the intersection of Stringtown Road and Route 355.

The state will also install a traffic signal for Clarksburg High School at the intersection of Foreman Boulevard and Route 355 by the time the school opens in August 2006.

* Accompanied by the joyous sounds of the shofar, members of Congregation Or Chadash carried two sets of torahs, the Jewish sacred scrolls, to their new home inside the temple’s sanctuary on Kings Valley Road in Damascus


* The county Planning Board opens hearings into the Clarksburg planning debacle. Residents and developers present testimony. Officials announce three county and state investigations.

* The Planning Board rejects requests from several ‘‘megachurches” for extensions of public water and sewer service in the county’s Agricultural Reserve. Next stop: County Council.

* School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast recommends boundaries for the new Clarksburg high school. He says Fox Chapel and Capt. James E. Daly elementaries in Germantown be reassigned. The recommendation doesn’t please everybody.

* Damascus American Legion Post 171 celebrates its 60th anniversary. The post was founded by 22 Damascus veterans who knew each other found companionship based on their shared wartime experiences.


* The County Council bans extensions of water and sewer service into the Agricultural Reserve, citing the need to protect the 93,000-acre swath across the upcounty from encroachment.

* A former pastor at Mother Seton Parish is accused of sexually abusing a former altar boy in 2001 and 2002. The boy, now 18, filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of Washington, D.C., against the priest, the archdiocese of Washington and the Order of Domincan Fathers and Brothers. Church officials say that police told them case was closed in 2003.

* Discovery Communications founder John Hendricks donates $6 million to the Maryland SoccerPlex to stave off financial troubles. Some in the soccer community worry that new troubles could develop between county soccer clubs and the complex’s supporters.

* An interim operation brings fire service to Clarksburg, which was experiencing longer than normal response times to emergencies.

* County and library officials announce that the contractor responsible for construction of the new Germantown library has missed every project deadline and will not open until August 2006, nearly a year behind schedule.


* The Minutemen are planning to come to Gaithersburg next month. Chuck Floyd of Kensington is orchestrating a campaign to create a local arm of the controversial Minuteman Project, a resident group formed in Arizona that has grabbed headlines nationwide with its roving border patrols and calls for immigration reform. Members are expected to monitor activities at a church parking lot where day laborers gather each morning, to be paired with employers.

* A proposal to bring a high school magnet program to the upcounty gains ground. Poolesville High School is the suggested location for a new gifted and talented program. The county school superintendent supports the plan.

* The Maryland Transit Administration announces plans to close the MARC train stations in Boyds and Dickerson due to low ridership and increased costs. County officials oppose the plan. A public hearing scheduled for mid-December is postponed to Jan. 5 due to bad weather.

* The long-awaited Germantown Indoor Swim Center opens. With three pools and other facilities, it will serve residents across the upcounty.

* Clarksburg activists, county planners and developers representatives agreed to work together in mediation behind closed doors to come up with a plan to remedy problems in the Clarksburg Town Center.