By Virginia Tehurne
Concerned about stalled growth, members of the recently formed Clarksburg Chamber of Commerce are petitioning the County Council to vote Tuesday against proposed limits on development in the Clarksburg area or at least postpone the vote.
The council is scheduled to meet Tuesday for a straw vote on a proposal to impose a cap of 6 percent on impervious surfaces in the Pulte Homes site west of Interstate 270 and caps of 15 percent on the Miles-Coppola and Egan sites east of I-270. For Pulte, that cap would cut the proposal to build 1,000 homes in the Ten Mile Creek watershed in Clarksburg to 538 or fewer homes.
On Feb. 26 at 8 p.m., the County Council is hosting a community meeting at Rocky Hill Middle School, 22401 Brick Haven Way in Clarksburg.
Council President Craig Rice, (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown, who represents Clarksburg, was not immediately available Tuesday afternoon for comment about the petition.
The Peterson Cos. of Fairfax, Va., which had planned to build a mixed-use Tanger fashion outlet complex on the Miles-Coppola site, supports the chamber’s position.
“Now that members of the subcommittees have chosen to ignore the hard work and thoroughly researched findings of the Planning Board, we will need to reassess the viability of our project and determine next steps,” wrote Taylor Chess, president of the developer’s retail division, in an email to The Gazette on Tuesday.
“We are disappointed that the Council’s decision runs counter to the 1994 Master Plan and makes it all-but-impossible for us to deliver the services and amenities including substantial improvements to transportation, walkability and sewer services at no cost to taxpayers,” Chess wrote. “We support the Chamber’s efforts to ask the County Council to rethink this proposed action and consider its implications.”
The developers of the Pulte and Miles-Coppola sites had originally sought much higher caps, which Clarksburg businesspeople say are needed to allow the development to generate customers for their businesses.
“Every business in order to thrive needs traffic,” said Bette Buffington, who with her husband, Joe Buffington, own Bennigan’s restaurant and a real estate business on Frederick Road in the Historic District of Clarksburg.
“Business needs synergy, and if you take that away, the people go where the synergy is,” Buffington said.
Based on Tuesday’s scheduled nonbinding vote, county staff will draft a detailed resolution for a final vote on an amendment to the 1994 Clarksburg Master Plan that would allow growth without irreparably damaging the Ten Mile Creek watershed.
Buffington said she feared that without Peterson Cos. and its proposed Tanger outlet on the Miles-Coppola site, the southern half of the historic district would not have public sewer service, limiting the chance for redevelopment of old buildings.
“It’s just like we’re frozen in time and even worse, because there’s no potential [to grow],” she said. “We’re stuck with what we’ve got.”
The petition drive is spearheaded by the recently formed Clarksburg Chamber of Commerce. David Stein, who manages a blog with 400 followers, succeeded Joe Buffington as president of the chamber on Feb. 12.
Stein was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but posted a comment on the petition’s change.org Web page last week. The petition website had 110 signatures as of Tuesday.
“I’m a Clarksburg resident and here’s what Clarksburg needs,” Stein wrote. “We need additional houses, because housing is what’s needed to bring retail into our area and that’s what we are looking for.
“Please hear our frustration,” he wrote. “We are up in arms. Clarksburg deserves an opportunity to move forward. Give us that opportunity.”
The petition also has the support of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, which wrote a letter Feb. 18 to Rice.
“The latest proposal needs to be given the same level of scrutiny as the initial Master Plan and the most recent proposed amendment from the Planning Board,” wrote that chamber’s president, Marilyn Balcombe, in the letter.
Buffington also speculated that if development did not go forward, Elm Street Development might back out of plans to develop the Clarksburg Town Center commercial site with a supermarket, stores and amenities planned there.
Developer David Flanagan, who heads the company, said Tuesday that he plans to meet with Clarksburg citizens on March 18 to review in detail with them updated plans for the town center.
Elm Street will go through what was initially proposed under the previous developer and what Elm Street is financially able to do today, he said.
“I want to go through in great detail [with them] before we submit it to the county Planning Board for approval of a revised development plan,” Flanagan said. “We’ve committed to the citizens that we’re going to file, and we’re going to push to get the approvals.”
Just when the construction starts on the project will depend on financial and market conditions at the time of approval, he said.
Flanagan said he is waiting to see how Elm Street’s new Clarksburg Village retail center, with its Harris Teeter supermarket, will do.
The center is in the Arora Hills residential neighborhood in Clarksburg south of the planned town center site.
“The [Clarksburg Village] center is 85 percent leased,” said Flanagan, adding that he will also keep on eye on retail development at the Adventist HealthCare site in the Cabin Branch area, which recently won the County Council’s approval for a Premium fashion outlet complex.
Flanagan said he supported the Adventist project but he could not comment on the current proposed impervious caps on the other three sites in Clarksburg without knowing how the limits translate into people and the number of potential customers in the area.