Greater Greater Washington

Clarksburg residents call to protect environment, add transit

The 1994 Clarksburg Master Plan envisioned a "transit- and pedestrian-oriented community" in upper Montgomery County with comprehensive transit service, a bustling town center, and phased development to protect the environment. 20 years later, many residents feel the promises have been broken.


Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

Instead, Clarksburg has little transit, no town center, and children who are bused across the street to school. Residents have formed a new organization, the Liveable Clarksburg Coalition, to influence the process for the final stage of development, which they call "our last chance to get it right." Their first meeting on May 26 drew a standing-room only crowd of 250 people.

The Liveable Clarksburg Coalition wants to halt further development until the plan's promises are fulfilled. And they warn against any development that might put pristine, environmentally-sensitive Ten Mile Creek at risk.

A town without a center, TOD without the T

The Master Plan called for 4 stages of development. Property owners in some areas could not build until adequate sewer infrastructure, some roads, and parts of the town center were in place. Meanwhile, safeguards tried to protect the health of Ten Mile Creek, called the county's "last, best creek."


Map of Clarksburg showing each of the 4 stages along with existing and proposed transit. Click on the image to see an interactive map.

The first stage was Clarksburg Town Center, which broke ground in 2000. Stage 2, including the Clarksburg Village and Arora Hills developments, started around 2003. And work began on the third stage, Cabin Branch, last year. The continuing construction suggests that development has gone smoothly. But actually, the opposite is true.

In 2004, residents discovered hundreds of site plan violations, a scandal that led to the resignation of the Planning Board chairman. The town center that was supposed to come first never got built; instead of stores, a supermarket, and a library, there are 17 acres of vacant land.


A man walks through Clarksburg's future town center. Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

For Clarksburg to get its first supermarket, set to open in Clarksburg Village this year, the County Council had to pass a limited amendment waiving the master plan's requirement that commercial development happen in the town center first.

Meanwhile, the promised "comprehensive transit system" has turned out to mean 2 Ride On routes: the 75, which runs every 30 minutes on weekdays between the Germantown Transit Center and the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, and the 79, which runs non-express every 30 minutes during rush hour between Clarksburg and Shady Grove.

The Corridor Cities Transitway was supposed to stop in Clarksburg at Comsat, 2 miles south of Town Center and across I-270 from Cabin Branch. Now, the Maryland Transit Administration plans for the still-unfunded line to end at Metropolitan Grove in Gaithersburg, 9 miles south.

And as for pedestrian-friendly roads: children in the Gateway Commons neighborhood take the bus to a school across the street because it's unsafe for them to cross on foot. There will be a crosswalk and traffic signal after a bypass of Route 355 is built, as the master plan calls for. However, the bypass would go through the school.

Plan requires more evaluation before developing around Ten Mile Creek

The fourth and final stage of Clarksburg development is on the east side of Ten Mile Creek. Because the creek is environmentally sensitive, the master plan requires the County Council to evaluate its water quality before Stage 4 can begin.


Photo by Dan Reed.

If the water quality is worse, they must decide whether to require property owners in Stage 4 to take extra measures to improve the creek, study the water quality further, make changes to Stage 4 to prevent additional deterioration, or just let Stage 4 go forward anyway. In 2009, the Department of Environmental Protection completed the required evaluation and found that construction in Town Center had degraded the water quality in the Ten Mile Creek watershed.

The Planning Board recommended that the County Council amend the master plan to change Stage 4. Instead, the council appointed a water quality working group to study whether planned development could occur without harming the watershed.

The working group's recommendations split along predictable lines. Consultants felt that development could continue without problems thanks to more stringent requirements for stormwater management and sediment control.

However, the majority of the group, including county government staff, a Clarksburg resident, and a member of an environmental group, felt that the planned development could not happen without harming the Ten Mile Creek watershed. They cited studies that show urbanization at any level degrades water quality, as well as the way construction at Town Center had already degraded one Ten Mile Creek subwatershed.

This majority recommended changing the master plan for Stage 4, and last October, the County Council asked the Planning Department to prepare a limited amendment to the plan.

The stakes are high

On June 20, the Planning Board will hold a worksession to present and discuss the proposed amendment. A public hearing will follow in September. If the Planning Board votes to endorse the amendment, it will then go to the County Council for a final vote that will determine how Stage 4 development will proceed.

Groups including the Sierra Club, Audubon Naturalist Society, and the Liveable Clarksburg Coalition are calling for changes to the Clarksburg Master Plan to protect Ten Mile Creek and support the vision of Clarksburg as a transit- and pedestrian-oriented town.

However, the two major developers in the watershed are pressuring the county to let Stage 4 proceed without major changes. Pulte Homes owns 538 acres in the Ten Mile Creek watershed and says they've spent $70 million preparing for the 1,000-unit development they're already advertising. And the Peterson Companies want to build a Tanger Outlet Center on a 98-acre property in the creek's watershed east of I-270.

Councilmember Craig Rice, whose district includes Clarksburg, has introduced 2 bills that would let projects with pervious pavers include more paved surface area than the Master Plan's limits would otherwise allow. Planners say that these bills "propose a solution to a problem that does not exist, and would create new problems."

For nearly a generation, development in Clarksburg has been a history of missteps, mistakes, empty words, and broken promises. Instead of a transit- and pedestrian-oriented town, the first 3 stages of the Clarksburg Master Plan have produced a car-dependent, transit-less sprawl. With the master plan amendment on Ten Mile Creek, Montgomery County has one last chance to get development in Clarksburg right.

Miriam Schoenbaum lives in Montgomery County's Agricultural Reserve. She serves on the MARC Riders' Advisory Council and is a member of the Action Committee for Transit

Comments

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Look at all of that featureless vinyl siding!

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jun 7, 2013 4:02 pm • linkreport

I’m not buying that an exurb of bedrooms is sustainable in any way unless they all start working from home or retire.

by AndrewJ on Jun 8, 2013 7:35 am • linkreport

An excellent summary of the disparity between plans and acts on the ground. The planners obviously know what people want and need for liveable communities. But then what happens? That's an article that needs to be written. Good luck, Clarksburg.

by Wendy Leibowitz on Jun 8, 2013 11:24 am • linkreport

Thank you, Livable Clarksburg, for being the voice of our community. I have two young kids and I want them to be proud to say years from now, "I grew up in Clarksburg".

by Angela on Jun 9, 2013 8:56 pm • linkreport

Wendy,

What happens is the development community decides that creating the communities planners envision will cost too much money or take too long to build, and find ways of slowly amending their plans, removing critical elements of the proposed community (of course they don't remove the houses).

The one benefit to Clarksburg is it's more dense than most suburbs, especially that far from the city. If nothing else, the individual neighborhoods do foster some walking, outdoor activity and community gathering in parks. Hopefully when/if the commercial centers ever do get built we'll see a new uptick in walking to services. I see it as less a failure in the end product (which is not even here yet) and more so a failure in the process to get there.

by Gull on Jun 10, 2013 9:29 am • linkreport

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