Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Development Districts Move Forward

Yesterday, we voted to move forward with a Clarksburg development district and to clarify the process for future taxing areas. I did not take this decision lightly, especially because I appreciate how difficult it has been for the residents of Clarksburg to live through the uncertainty of the issues surrounding their community. I apologize for how long it has taken to resolve them.

I know that some folks are unhappy with the Council’s vote on development districts. I supported this initiative because I believe that we have a huge obligation to plan for the future with innovative solutions that will provide the infrastructure necessary for a thriving community. Development districts were always intended to be the way to finance the Clarksburg infrastructure, and its result, according to what our finance people have told us, will put Clarksburg residents at about the midpoint of tax burden that our county residents bear. Some pay less, and some pay more. I am concerned about taxation equity and am committed to working to find ways that spread the responsibility as fairly as possible.

Additionally, I understand that the Clarksburg plan of compliance is on the Planning Board agenda for early November. Hopefully, that will bring to conclusion all remaining issues so that Clarksburg can finally move forward again and reach its full potential.

1 comment:

Paul Bender said...

I am a resident of the Clarksburg Town Center, and I am very dissapointed by the recent Council decision regarding Development Districts--particularly with respect to infrastructure such as roads and the library, which are resources available for use by all residents of the county and Clarksburg, not just the residents of three developments Clarksburg developments.

Most of us have had to widthstand plummeting housing values during the past few years, and this decision by the Council has just devalued my property by yet another $45,000 ($1,500 per year for 30 years). Whey would any buyer want to buy a house in the Clarksburg Town Center now, when he can buy virually the same house across the street or down the road, not have to pay the tax, and still get to drive the roads and enjoy the library!? Over the years, my taxes have helped build the Germantown library and others. Yet when the Clarksburg library is built, we will be "on our own." How is that fair?

Finally, some history:
Construction of the Clarksburg Town Center development began in 2001. Now, about seven years later, half the dwelling units have still not been completed, most of the required roads have not been provided, and by all accounts the ground for the retail center will not even be broken for another year at the earliest.

By contrast, construction of the Highlands of Clarksburg (just across Stringtown Road from Clarksburg Town Center) began in 2003 and was completed (including roads and retail center) in 2006. Similarly, the developments of Clarksburg Village and Arora Hills are much further along in their construction than the Clarksburg Town Center, though both were started years afterward.

All throughout 2008, Newland Communities has been attempting to justify a scaled-back redesign of the original, ambitious, vision of the Clarksburg Town Center retail district. Newland cites vague marketing analyses which (they claim) substantiate their assertion that the original design is not “viable,” that it is too “upscale” for the projected Clarksburg demographics. With Newland standing to save millions of dollars by implementing their “dumbed-down” redesign of the retail district, how can their justifications be considered in any way objective? Furthermore, Newland claims that their redesign is substantially equivalent to the original vision—this despite the fact that (as written in the August comments from the Development Review Committee) the revised plan shows that sidewalks have been narrowed, store sizes have been scaled back, numerous amenities have been eliminated or cheapened (e.g. substituting asphalt for pavers), safety has been compromised, the stream valley buffer has been encroached upon, and overall parking is entirely inadequate. Through it all, Newland has repeatedly has requested (and been granted!!!) postponement after postponent, while commiting hundreds of building violations for which they have apparently never faced any fine or penalty of any kind!

Allowing Newland to be reimbursed via Development Tax dollars would be in effect rewarding them for their nuemerous building violations, repeated schedule delays, and their recent attempts to cheapen the vision of the Town Center.

Rather than thinking of ways to sweeten the pot for Newland and other developers, the County should be thinking of ways to provide more oversight of development projects, and holding developers more accountable for their failure to take responsibility for their development obligations.

Paul Bender
Clarksburg Town Center
pgbender@comcast.net