Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007

Montgomery planners have a problem with false submissions on developments

But no one is sure how widespread the issue is or how to fix it

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Montgomery County planning officials acknowledge that applicants sometimes submit erroneous information on development forms and site plans, but they are not sure whether the problem is extensive enough for county officials to institute fines and penalties.

And if the problem does warrant legislation, no one is sure who should take the lead. The County Council, which oversees the Planning Board? Or the General Assembly, because the Planning Board is a state agency?

The problem came to light when Ashton resident Steve Kanstoroom testified before the County Council during a recent public hearing on a proposed development moratorium.

‘‘There is an unlicensed professional that testifies before the Planning Board and is calling themselves an engineer, and that’s wrong,” Kanstoroom said.

More importantly, he said, planning staff say there is little they can do about it because there are no penalties in place that could curb the problem. Kanstoroom encouraged the council to pass a penalty law.

Rose G. Krasnow, chief of the county’s Development Review department said planners know who Kanstroroom referred to, but that person does not sign off on plans and therefore is breaking no rules.

‘‘Kanstoroom is trying to make the point that we are getting information that is not true, and that is important,” Krasnow said. ‘‘We feel strongly that we need to be able to trust the information that we are getting.”

As for asking the County Council to create some type of penalty legislation, Krasnow said, the planning staff is not yet there. ‘‘We are not yet convinced that there is a big problem that exists, but we are interested.”

County Council President Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton said the council may begin looking at establishing some sort of penalty after discussions with Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson.

‘‘The question is whether this is for the local government or the state government or even professional associations to establish if the punishment includes something like revoking a person’s professional license,” Praisner said. ‘‘This is something that concerns us.”

Assistant Attorney General Shelley Wasserman said that without looking at possible legislation establishing any penalties or fines, there is no way to determine whether the county or state has jurisdiction to pass the laws.

Establishing a penalty policy is even more difficult because the planning agency is a bi-county agency, partnered with the Prince George’s County planning agency. Like Montgomery County, Prince George’s has its own Planning Board, commissioners and development staff. Planning staff is unsure whether any legislation of this type would have to include both counties since they share some duties.

Arie Stouten, development review director for Prince George’s County, said that if Montgomery’s council devises the rules, they would have no bearing on his county.

‘‘Each council has come to create its own zoning ordinance for the development review process,” he said.

Like Montgomery County, Stouten said, the Prince George’s planning department does not set penalties for misinformation on site plans because the problems are usually corrected during the review process.

‘‘I can’t even remember when I thought someone went out of their way to misrepresent the situation because that kind of stuff is going to pop up anyway,” Stouten said. ‘‘Sometimes because engineers are busy they may overlook some things in the preparation of site plans, but we usually get those things ironed out.”