Montgomery County will amend its master plan for land use around Clarksburg before it allows development to progress in the area of Ten Mile Creek, a healthy stream that feeds Montgomery County’s drinking water supply.
Opening the master plan for amendment was an effort to resolve lingering concerns surrounding development in the watershed.
But developers said the path chosen Tuesday threatens to delay projects planned to start as early as 2014.
With no objections, the council agreed to a recommendation from the Montgomery County Planning Board to add Clarksburg’s master plan to the board’s workload and to resolve the issue in 12 months. That action also delayed master plan amendments for Pooks Hill and Sandy Spring by as long as 18 months and for Gaithersburg east by as long as nine months, interim planning director Rose Krasnow said in a presentation to the council.
At issue is reconciling future development the final stage of Clarksburg’s master plan with the water quality of Ten Mile Creek, which has suffered degradation from nearby development.
Councilman Craig Rice, who represents Clarksburg, said opening the master plan was the best way to protect the vision of Clarksburg, as well as the creek.
“I don’t think there are going to be winners and losers in this case because I think that ultimately a proposal, that recognizes the timely need for us to put this to bed once and for all for Clarksburg and also for ensuring that we protect the environment, can happen together,” he said.
About 10 miles from of the mouth of Monocacy River, the cold waters of Ten Mile Creek have played a a critical role in the region’s agricultural trade as a watering hole for livestock driven to ports in Baltimore and Annapolis, said Norman Mease, whose family has owned and farmed land cut by the creek’s flow.
In the last decade, development in the watershed and near its headwaters has degraded Ten Mile Creek’s quality, said Steven Shofar, chief of the county’s watershed management division of the Department of Environmental Protection.
Ten Mile Creek also feeds Little Seneca Creek and the Little Seneca Reservoir, which is a water source for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s supply to Montgomery County.
Diane Cameron, conservation director of the Audubon Naturalist Society, has been among those who wanted to reopen the master plan and to consider protections for the creek before major development begins in the next area of the plan, much of which is in the Ten Mile Creek Watershed.
“We know floods will happen. We know hurricanes and tropical storms will happen in the future, and the more healthy land we have in terms of forest and good farmland, then we are going to at least somewhat lessen the impact of these storms. But if we take out the forest and the farmland, we lose that buffering effect,” Cameron said.
Three developers with property in the creek’s watershed — Pulte Homes, Mattlyn Enterprises LLC and The Peterson Cos. — have recently pushed for changes to their water and sewer categories, the first steps in development.
But reopening the master plan process threatens to freeze development which has all-but stalled in Clarksburg, said Robert Egan of Mattlyn Enterprises.
Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said any development proposed in the watershed should be required to come up with a comprehensive water protection plan to protect the environment.
“I think that there’s a way in which we can achieve, a way in which we can have this development that means jobs, that means affordable housing, which are extremely important here in Montgomery County, but also protects the environment,” Rice said in an interview. “And there is a balance that’s there. It just means that we have to require it, hold our developers responsible.”
Developers said they are working on those plans now.
Stephen Collins, director of entitlements for Pulte Homes of the Mid-Atlantic region, said Pulte has invested about $60 million in Clarksburg through acquiring its 530-acre tract, and purchasing extra density.
Pulte has rights to build 1,016 units on the property, he said. However, only about 40 percent will be developed. Pulte plans to keep 60 percent, or about 300 acres, untouched, Collins said.
To preserve water quality, Pulte has been considering using pervious surfaces for private streets and sidewalks as well as rain gardens and vegetative swales instead of traditional stormwater retention ponds.
But while the master plan amendment is likely to define what water quality steps developers must take, it will also likely delay the 2015 start Pulte has targeted, possibly by as much as five years, and could threaten the density Pulte has acquired.
Taylor Chess, senior vice president of retail for Peterson, said the progress of the master plan would affect the company’s hopes to break ground in 2014.
Peterson has a contract on a 98-acre tract northeast of Interstate 270 and looks to put in a development that would include a mix of commercial, residential and hotel uses.
“There’s got to be a better way,” Egan said.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said he is committed to ensuring Ten Mile Creek is treated “as the natural treasure that it is,” but also providing Clarksburg-area residents with the amenities and infrastructure that they need.
Because the council had not started a master plan amendment as of late September, Leggett suggested that the council pursue protections for the creek through conditions on water and sewer.