Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2007

Greencastle Road project moves forward after delays

Townhouse development held up after change in ownership, revised plans, death of reviewer

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Construction on a townhouse development off Greencastle Road should begin in the spring, more than four years after plans for the site were initially approved, a consultant for the developer said.

The delay to building on what is known as the Day Property off Greencastle Road was a result of a change in land ownership, revised site plans and the death of a county employee, according to documents from the Montgomery County Planning Department.

The Planning Board voted Thursday to give the new owner, national developing firm D.R. Horton, an additional six months to act on the preliminary plan after an original six-month extension expired in August.

Alfred S. Blumberg, a consultant with Germantown-based Site Solutions Incorporated representing D.R. Horton, said the record plat for the property already has been submitted and is awaiting final approval from the county.

The Montgomery County Planning Board approved both a preliminary and site plan for 11 townhouses on the Day Property, two acres between Robey Road and Greencastle Ridge Terrace, in December 2003. The board’s resolution was mailed Jan. 6, 2004. Under conditions of the resolution, the plans were valid for 37 months, meaning a developer had until Feb. 6, 2007, to receive a record plat for the land or ask for an extension to act on the preliminary plans.

Richard Weaver, subdivision coordinator with the Planning Department, said the three-year window is standard and that more developers are waiting longer to build on approved sites because of the current slow housing market. Once record plats are recorded, a developer can build whenever it wants as long as it pays taxes on the undeveloped site, he said.

Still, ‘‘nobody wants their plans to expire,” Weaver said. ‘‘Properties don’t sit vacant very long in Montgomery County.”

In the spring of 2005, the original property owner, Spire Woods LLC, of Rockville, sold the property to D.R. Horton, which wanted to change the size of the townhouses. That required a revised site plan, which was filed in November 2005.

The revised plan was reviewed and approved by the Planning Board in the fall of 2006. A forest conservation project for the plan was approved in December, but by January 2007, the plan had still not been certified by the county, meaning the record plat could not be recorded.

Blumberg wrote a letter Jan. 23 to the Planning Board asking for a one-year extension on the plan, even though he believed it would not take that long for the record plat to be recorded.

The Planning Board granted Horton a six-month extension in February and approved the record plat in May. The record plat was then given to the Department of Permitting Services for final approval but was returned to D.R. Horton one month later, pending approval of the development’s storm drain and paving plans.

Those plans were approved Aug. 3, which did not allow enough time for the record plat to by Aug. 6, when the site plan expired.

In an Aug. 22 letter to the Planning Board asking for an additional, six-month extension for the site plan, Blumberg said the site’s storm drain and paving plans had been submitted months in advance but that their approval was delayed because of the death of the assigned reviewer. Weaver confirmed Blumberg’s account in preparing a memo on the case for the Planning Board, also noting the retirement of two other reviewers that slowed the pace of the review process.

With a new six-month extension granted, the record plat can now finally be recorded.

Blumberg said once construction begins, it would take ‘‘a better part of a year” to complete. He also acknowledged all of the delays mean the houses may enter a housing market not as strong as when Horton purchased the land in 2005.

‘‘They would have been much better off doing this two years ago,” he said.