Pulte Homes is saying a recommendation by county planners to cut its housing project from 1,000 to 215 units in Boyds to preserve the Ten Mile Creek watershed is a gross violation of property rights.
“I’ve never seen a down-zoning like this in my 39 years in the county,” Gus Bauman, an attorney and former county Planning Board chairman representing Pulte, said on Monday.
Bauman said Pulte has hired an environmental consultant to testify about its project at a Sept. 10 public hearing about proposed development in the final Phase 4 build-out of the Clarksburg area.
“We tend to testify at the Planning Board and County Council and see what the government does with it,” said Bauman, noting that he has taken property rights cases all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Pulte bought most of the 538-acre site west of Interstate 270 and also bought Transfer Development Rights that enable land to the west of the site to remain as farmland in the Agricultural Reserve.
“They’ve spent tens of millions in good faith reliance on the master plan, on the zoning and on all the TDRs,” Bauman said.
Others argue, however, that the 1994 Clarksburg Master Plan clearly states that before approving Phase 4 developments, the county can stop and review the situation, which is what it is currently doing through consideration of a limited plan amendment.
Planners talked about their recommendations during a two-hour tour of the Phase 4 area with the Planning Board on Monday morning, followed by an informational meeting Monday night with residents in Clarksburg.
The Planning Board will meet to discuss the planners’ recommendations on Thursday as part of its ongoing review of possible changes to the master plan.
After the Sept. 10 hearing, the Planning Board will present is recommendations by Oct. 11 to the County Council, which will make the final decisions about how much development is allowed and where.
It will be a tough and politically charged decision. The County Council is caught between residents who want developers to finish roads and build the stores, parks and community centers promised by the 1994 Master Plan, and environmentalists, who argue that building west of Md. 355 and Interstate 270 will degrade the fragile and biologically rich Ten Mile Creek watershed, which feeds into Little Seneca Lake, a backup regional reservoir.
Developments in the Phase 4 study area include the Pulte site; 74 county-owned acres south of the county jail, west of I-270 and north of Clarksburg Road; the 100-acre Egan/High Point farm and catering site off Md. 355; and the Streamside/Peterson Companies site for Tanger fashion outlets on the 100-acre Miles-Coppola property.
Planners recommend limited development on the county site, a former rubble landfill, to preserve its forested areas.
They also recommended two houses per acre for the Egan site and capping impervious surfaces at 25 percent for both the Egan and Streamside sites.
“We’re very close to what they’re suggesting,” said Taylor Chess, president of Peterson’s retail division, which has so far figured on 33 percent impervious surface. “We’re in the same ballpark and [just] need some specific design.”
Chess said on-site treatment measures will improve water quality, but environmentalists argue that any additional large-scale building in the watershed can only make things worse.
“Based on what we’ve learned from the science, barring development is the only way to protect it,” said Diane Cameron of the Audubon Naturalist Society, speaking for the Save Ten Mile Creek Coalition.
Cameron said the coalition will release a detailed response to the planners’ recommendation at a rally Thursday morning, outside the Planning Board offices in Silver Spring.
She said the better way to achieve the build-out of Clarksburg is to concentrate housing and retail stores in the Clarksburg Town Center area east of Md. 355, which is outside the Ten Mile Creek watershed.
Elm Street Development is expected to build a neighborhood retail center with a grocery store, retailers, office space, a library or civic building, and surface parking on the vacant 12-acre site.
It falls short of the the complex promised by the previous site owners, but provides a second grocery store for Clarksburg.
Elm Street’s retail center in the Clarksburg Village/Aurora Hills neighborhood, which includes a Harris Teeter grocery store, is under construction and due to open this fall.
Chess said the County Council will have to choose between the Streamside/Tanger outlet project on the northeast corner of I-270 and Clarksburg Road and the similar Premier Outlets project on the southwest corner of the interesection, being developed by Streetscape Partners.
The Streamside/Tanger project is in the Phase 4 study area. The Streetscape/Premier outlet project is not.
The Cabin Branch plan won Planning Board approval on July 18 to quadruple the amount of allowed retail space to enable outlets, restaurants and stores, while reducing the amount of office space approved by the County Council in 2003.
The Streetscape/Premier plan goes before the county hearing examiner on Monday, before going to the County Council for a final decision.
The Cabin Branch developers argue that their site is environmentally preferable, and that because they’re further ahead in the development process, they can get retail services to Clarksburg residents sooner than Peterson.
Chess, however, said the two outlet projects are on the same timetable and that the Tanger outlets also could open by late 2015.
Chess also argues that Streamside is located closer to Clarksburg Town Center and that by extending sewer service and improving the road system, it could help revive the Historic District and better help achieve the Master Plan vision for Clarksburg as a cohesive community.
Chess said the market is not big enough for two fashion outlet centers, so the Council will have to pick one over the other.
To see the planners’ recommendations, visit www.montgomeryplanningboard.org and the July 25 agenda.