Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007

County puts hold on new projects

Clarksburg residents applaud tighter test for road and school capacity, worry that building ban will harm businesses

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The new growth policy adopted by the County Council last week will stop new home construction until July in Clarksburg developments that are not already approved.

In a 7-1 vote, the council on Nov. 13 voted for new tests to determine when schools and roads are too crowded.

The moratorium affects all residential developments that applied for preliminary plan approval after Jan. 1, 2007, but have yet to receive it.

The moratorium affects the Clarksburg Cluster because Rocky Hill Middle School is above 120 percent of capacity. It will remain in effect until the County Council adopts a budget that includes funding for a new middle school in Clarksburg within six years. The County Council will consider enrollment projections and school capacity when it adopts next year’s budget in July.

‘‘We saw so much growth in Clarksburg,” said Bruce Crispell, director of long-range planning for the county school system. ‘‘It takes a while for the school to get into the program and funded for opening.”

Councilman Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said he has asked the Park and Planning Commission to file a report in the next six months on the economic affect the policy, specifically the moratorium, would have on Clarksburg.

‘‘We have a master plan that says we want to build Clarksburg,” Knapp said. ‘‘You have a market ready to proceed, but no resources to make sure the infrastructure is in place.”

The policy is great for the county, but might have a negative impact on Clarksburg, he said. The fewer houses in Clarksburg, the less likely retail development would come to the town, he added.

‘‘It could be bad,” Knapp said. ‘‘We don’t know what the result will be. It will slow down the retail and commercial development.”

Knapp raised a motion to try to increase the school capacity limit to 135 percent on Nov. 13 to prevent Clarksburg from going into moratorium, but the motion failed.

He said he voted for the growth policy because the bill was necessary to address growth problems across the county.

‘‘There are a number of other issues we need to get a handle on,” Knapp said. ‘‘We need to make sure infrastructure and development are more closely tied together.”

Kathie Hulley, president of the Clarksburg Civic Association, generally supports the moratorium.

‘‘I don’t think it is a bad thing,” she said. ‘‘Clarksburg was already being built out too fast.”

Hulley is concerned the moratorium might be lifted too soon when the new Clarksburg middle school is added into the budget.

Donna Pfeiffer, Clarksburg Cluster PTA co-coordinator, said she is worried about the moratorium hurting local businesses.

‘‘The infrastructure must keep up with Clarksburg growth or the students will suffer,” Pfeiffer said. ‘‘We need the roads and we need the schools.”

Business owners have complained that the slow pace of building roads in Clarksburg has hurt business.

‘‘I don’t think we want development if we don’t have infrastructure,” said Pat Darby, president of the Clarksburg Chamber of Commerce. ‘‘It is necessary to have development continue. A lot of promises were made to the residents and the businesses.”

Under the new policy, developers will have to pay significant fees to build homes in an area where schools are projected to be at 105 percent or more of capacity.

The new school adequacy test takes into better consideration the number of students each classroom can actually hold rather than multiplying classrooms in a school by a standard number to determine school capacity, Crispell said.

The policy moves the county from County Council’s growth policy method of determining capacity to the county school system’s method of counting capacity. School capacity will always be lower under the new method because special education classes sometimes only have six students, Crispell said.

The new growth policy also increases the transportation impact tax developers pay for new developments by 70 percent. The taxes are meant to ease traffic congestion the new development creates.

David Flanagan, president of Elm Street Development of McLean, Va., developer of Clarksburg Village, said the big problem for developers is not the moratorium, but the extra fees. He already has preliminary plan approval for his development.

‘‘A lot of the small guys will go out of business and the big guys will lose millions of dollars,” he said. ‘‘To have that financial burden, it will be difficult to deal with.”

Clarksburg Village is a 771-acre project bounded to the north by Stringtown Road and to the south by Ridge Road. It is the largest development under construction in Clarksburg and will have 2,500 homes, 20,000 square feet of office space and a 5,000-square-foot day care center.

A new areawide transportation test was introduced as part of the policy, which is called the Policy Area Mobility Review (PAMR). As part of the test, new development is required to account for 100 percent of the added traffic generated by the development. It also requires checking the impact of new development on traffic in adjacent areas.

‘‘The PAMR test needs to be tested,” said Amy Presley, president of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee, the group that uncovered hundreds of site plan violations in the Clarksburg Town Center in 2005. ‘‘It seems there was a push to get the growth policy approved. It is not clear to me the PAMR test will alleviate the types of problems that have occurred.”

She was also concerned about whether the county will stick to the new school adequacy policy.

‘‘I think they are headed in the right direction on the school facilities piece, but I have some concerns about how they will enforce it,” Presley said.