The controversy over the future of major new housing and retail projects in the Clarksburg-Boyds area has landed in the lap of the nine-member Montgomery County Council.
A council public hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 3 to accept comment on the planning board’s final recommendations for future development in the area.
Chief among them are zoning recommendations to allow Pulte Homes to build up to 656 housing units on rural land in Boyds and The Peterson Companies to build a mixed-use fashion outlet center in Clarksburg.
Both projects are in the Ten Mile Creek watershed that drains southwest from Clarksburg across Boyds into the Little Seneca Lake reservoir.
The planning board recommendations would amend the 1994 Clarksburg Master Plan, which called for housing and services to complete the build-out of Clarksburg. It also called for a review of projects to ensure that the final phase of growth in Clarksburg does not result in irrevocable damage to Ten Mile Creek.
After the Dec. 3 hearing, the council — which has ultimate control over zoning — will hold public worksessions before taking a final vote on the master plan amendment in early 2014.
Elections for all nine council seats, held every four years, are set for November 2014.
“We’ll find out whether the council represents the citizens of Montgomery County or developer interests,” Caroline Taylor, executive director of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, wrote in an email on Tuesday.
“This single decision, affecting the long-term integrity of our regional water supply, will provide an excellent barometer,” she wrote.
Montgomery County Council Vice President Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown, who represents the Clarksburg and Boyds areas, was not available for comment Tuesday.
A message left with the office of Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda, who represents the Poolesville area, was not returned Tuesday.
However, Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At Large) of Takoma Park was clear about his position at this point in the Council’s review.
“[The planning board] is obviously not trying to protect the stream. ... I’m totally baffled,” he said on Tuesday.
“There’s no scientific basis [for the decision],” said Elrich. “Giving the developers something is not planning. ... It’s a fundamental truth that compromise is not always the answer.”
Elrich also questioned the wisdom of enabling The Peterson Companies to build a fashion outlet center on 100 acres east of Interstate 270 on land that includes the headwaters of Ten Mile Creek.
“It’s offensive,” he said about the recommendations.
The Peterson Companies says it believes developing the land and protecting the environment can occur concurrently.
“We are pleased that the planning board recognized the balance between development and environmental stewardship — a balance we have worked hard to achieve through our extensive work with the county staff,” Taylor Chess, president of Peterson’s retail division, wrote in an email Tuesday.
“We look forward to presenting our vision for Streamside at Clarksburg to the Council on Dec. 3, outlining our plan to deliver the great community-building project that Clarksburg and Montgomery County’s Master Plan are looking for in the next 24-30 months.”
Concern for the reservoir motivated environmentalists to invite County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) on a Sept. 11 tour of the watershed. It included a stop at the Little Seneca Lake reservoir, which is south and outside of the Ten Mile Creek area reviewed by the planning board.
Little Seneca Lake can be tapped to raise the water level of the Potomac River in the event drought reduces the river’s level below the intake pipes that feed the Potomac Water Filtration Plant, which supplies much of the county’s drinking water.
Leggett said he wanted more information about the condition of the reservoir, because Ten Mile Creek drains into it. In response, former County Councilman Scott Fosler has proposed a study to assess the effect of existing and proposed developments on the reservoir.
Fosler sent the proposal to Leggett on Oct. 10. It is currently being reviewed by the county’s Department of Environmental Protection. Foster also sent a copy to the planning board on Oct. 23.
In his outline, Fosler estimated that a study would take at least four months and could take more than a year, depending on the scope. He estimated it could cost from $200,000 to $1 million, but that the expense could be spread among agencies in the region served by the Potomac River drinking water supply.
Pulte Homes’ plan called for 1,000 housing units on high ground within 538 rural acres west of I-270 in Boyds.
Initially, three of the five planning board members supported up to 215 homes based on county planning recommendations that future development should instead be concentrated east of I-270 in central Clarksburg.
However, the final recommendation for cluster zoning on the Pulte site would allow up to 656 units and cap impervious surfaces to 10 percent, which means building some townhouses to reduce paved and built areas.
“Our original plan for 1,000 homes uses a lot layout that is clustered. ... It is the 10 percent impervious cap that is driving the conversion to more townhomes, which we are opposed to,” Stephen Collins, head of development programs for Pulte Homes, wrote in an email Tuesday. “We don’t think a higher percentage of townhomes in this area of Clarksburg is the best choice for the community.”
“We don’t feel this downzoning is warranted,” Collins wrote. “We feel strongly that we can develop 1,000 homes with a comprehensive environmental plan that protects the watershed.”
East of I-270, which is closer to the planned town center of Clarksburg and the town’s historic district, the planning board is recommending an imperviousness cap of 25 percent.
That is lower than the 33 percent cap that The Peterson Companies wanted, but it would still allow it to build a mixed-use development on the 100-acre Miles-Coppola site on the northeast corner of I-270 and Clarksburg Road (Md. 121).
East of I-270, the planning board is also recommending residential zoning (two units per acre) for the 100-acre Egan-Mattlyn site further north between I-270 and Md. 355 (Frederick Road), the site of the current High Point Catering business.
The Planning Board recommendations for 1994 Clarksburg Master Plan amendment and the Ten Mile Creek watershed are posted at www.montgomeryplanning.org/10milecreek.