Developers and environmentalists butted heads Tuesday night in an ongoing battle to win support from the county Planning Board for their respective agendas in the growing Clarksburg/Boyds area.
More than 30 people spoke for or against development projects during the four-hour hearing in Silver Spring.
At issue is how much development to allow in the Ten Mile Creek watershed, which covers parts of Boyds and Clarksburg, and balancing the needs of a growing population there with the needs of an environmentally protected watershed.
The watershed, most of which is west of Interstate 270, drains into Little Seneca Lake, an emergency drinking water reservoir for the Washington, D.C., region.
Not everyone who signed up had a chance to speak during the public hearing, so the board said it would hear those people at its next meeting, scheduled for Thursday.
The Planning Board will hold several work sessions before making its recommendations to the County Council for a final decision on how much development to allow in the final Phase 4 stage of Clarksburg development.
The board is considering whether large Phase 4 residential and commercial projects proposed by Pulte Homes west of I-270 and The Peterson Companies east of I-270 pose a threat to the relatively clean Ten Mile Creek watershed.
The county planning staff has recommended cutting the Pulte Homes project from 900 homes to 215 as a way of limiting runoff of sediment and pollution into sections of Ten Mile Creek.
Pulte is challenging the recommendation by presenting opinions from three consultants of its own who argue that the county’s analysis is “seriously deficient.”
Pulte also questions the fairness of limiting its project to an 8 percent impervious surface cap west of I-270 in the watershed while supporting a 25 percent impervious surface cap for the Peterson Companies’ plan for a mixed-use Tanger fashion outlet project east of I-270 in the headwaters of the creek.
“Each property should be treated equally,” said Pulte attorney Robert Harris at the hearing. “Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not a legally defensible policy.”
Several business owners in the Clarksburg historic district straddling Md. 355 (Frederick Road) said they support the Pulte and Peterson outlet projects because they would bring in more customers to sustain local businesses.
“Without population there won’t be investment,” said Joe Buffington, whose parents own the Bennigan’s restaurant in the historic district.
“Please let Clarksburg grow to its full potential,” he said.
Complicating the issue is the fact that the Peterson Tanger outlet plan east of I-270 is competing with a plan by Streetscape Partners, Adventist Health and Simon Properties for a Premium outlet center on the southwest corner of I-270 and Clarksburg Road (Md. 121).
The Streetscape plan is in the earlier Phase 3 of the Clarksburg build-out and also is in the neighboring Cabin Branch watershed, which is not as environmentally sensitive as the Ten Mile Creek watershed.
“This would provide the long-suffering [Clarksburg] community” with the services they need,” said Jennifer Russell, of Rodgers Consulting, speaking in support of the Streetscape plan.
Streetscape Partners and the other developers of the Premium outlet project say they are years ahead of the Peterson Tanger project in the approval process, a claim that Peterson disputes.
Meanwhile, environmentalist groups and some local residents challenge developers’ claims that environmental site design measures would protect the watershed.
Cathy Wiss of the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase said supporters of the environmental site design measures assume steady flows of water when in fact there are “wide swings in cubic feet per second” in the Ten Mile Creek watershed.
Allowing development in the relatively clean but fragile watershed could generate irreversible damage, said Diane Cameron, speaking for the Save Ten Mile Creek Coalition.
It is better to prevent pollution and runoff in the Ten Mile Creek watershed than to try to treat it later, she said.
“The draft [planning recommendation] doesn’t do enough to protect drinking water,” she said about the Little Seneca Lake reservoir.
Steps also must be taken to protect the underlying Piedmont aquifer that supplies water to properties outside the county’s public water system, said Beth Daly, of the Sugarloaf Citizens Association in Dickerson.
“Protection [of the watershed] should be the primary goal, not trying to balance that with the interests of developers,” she said.
John Menke, a former county councilman, said that a lot of money already has been spent to protect the reservoir, which could be undone by allowing intense development upstream.
“We do risk trashing this investment,” he said.
Caroline Taylor of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, based in Poolesville, presented a petition with 1,000 signatures to the Planning Board on Tuesday favoring protection of the watershed.
“It’s a critical regional resource,” said Taylor, citing predictions by the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River that climate change could cut stream flows by as much as 35 percent by 2040.
Melane Hoffman, who heads the recently formed Livable Clarksburg group, has been advocating for construction of the long-overdue Clarksburg Town Center retail area east of Md. 355, where a grocery store and other retail stores are planned.
“Our quality of life rests with this decision,” she said of the competing interests facing the Planning Board. “We want Clarksburg to become whole. There’s a potential to do great good but also great harm.”
The Tuesday Planning Board hearing may be viewed at www.montgomeryplanningboard.org.