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The Battle Of Ten Mile Creek Intensifies

Future Development In Clarksburg Area At Issue

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Ten Mile Creek originally was so named because it is located that very distance from the mouth of the Monocacy River, along which the Battle of Monocacy Junction was fought during the Civil War.

Nearly 150 years later, a political battle over residential and commercial development along Ten Mile Creek – and the upcounty region adjacent to it – is picking up steam.

Last Wednesday evening, 225 residents of the Clarksburg area crowded into a multi-purpose room at the Little Bennett Elementary School for the first gathering of the Liveable Clarksburg Coalition. Organizers of the new group – whose formation arose not only from concern about the environmental quality of Ten Mile Creek, but also frustration at the lack of a town center and mass transit options nearly 20 years after enactment of a master plan for Clarksburg – are vowing to turn up the heat on county  officials.

They’ll ratchet things up a bit further Thursday, when their organization joins with nine other local civic and advocacy groups – including Conservation Montgomery, the Muddy Branch Alliance and the Sugarloaf Citizens Association – in an umbrella coalition organized by the Chevy Chase-based Audubon Naturalist Society.

“The core goal is to save Ten Mile Creek, which means protecting and maintaining its high quality,” said Diane Cameron, the Audubon Naturalist Society’s conservation director. Besides announcing the coalition, she will unveil a report outlining options for protecting the creek – portions of which she termed “extremely fragile” from a biological standpoint — prior to a Montgomery County Planning Board meeting.

Thursday’s Planning Board agenda tentatively includes a hearing on a bill by District 2 County Councilmember Craig Rice, who represents Clarksburg. The legislation would create additional incentives for developers to use so-called permeable pavement technologies, in lieu of traditional “impervious” surfaces that result in runoff of pollution into nearby bodies of water. “It’s a heckuva lot better than the asphalt and concrete we’re now using,” Rice said of his proposal, which would apply to all development in the county.

But critics see the bill as an end run around development restrictions in the Clarksburg area, and have jokingly dubbed it the “Pulte Pavement Bill” – a reference to Pulte Homes, which is eyeing development of several hundred acres in the Ten Mile Creek watershed. They got some ammunition from a Planning Board staff memo opposing the legislation; planning staff said it “would result in increased environmental impacts in the few limited areas of the county that have been recognized as needing the additional protection for high quality, sensitive waters that is provided by imperviousness limits.”

It’s the latest skirmish as the Planning Board and County Council prepare to debate the development along Ten Mile Creek in the coming months. The stakes are high not just for Clarksburg and the upcounty area, but the entire region – since Ten Mile Creek flows into Little Seneca Reservoir, a backup drinking water source for much of the Washington area. The reservoir was tapped during severe droughts in 1999 and 2002 due to low levels in the Potomac River, Cameron noted.

Such concerns contributed to County Council passage last year of an amendment to the county’s 1994 Clarksburg master plan, to assess protections to the Ten Mile Creek watershed before so-called Stage 4 of the master plan is allowed to proceed. In October, the council will vote on recommendations from the Planning Board – a schedule intended to resolve this politically charged issue prior to the 2014 election year.

Meanwhile, if Rice and leaders of the new Liveable Clarksburg Coalition share some of the same long-term goals for the area, tensions are flaring over the degree of progress in achieving them. (Although three of his County Council colleagues – Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, and Hans Riemer – sent staffers to last week’s first Liveable Clarksburg Coalition meeting, Rice did not. He later said he had not been invited, a statement disputed by the coalition’s lead organizer, Melane Hoffmann.)

Rice, who said his first priority after winning election in 2010 was to get Clarksburg “back on track,” contended planning for a Clarksburg town center (on a site outside the Ten Mile Creek watershed) is “much further along than it ever has been before.” The lack of such a center, with local retail and other amenities, has been a source of frustration to residents at a time when two developers are competing to build regional outlet malls nearby along I-270.

“It very much concerns me when I have organizations that say ‘Nothing’s happened in 20 years in Clarksburg, and no promises have been met’,” Rice said, declaring: “Over the past three years, I’ve been able to accomplish what hasn’t been able to be accomplished in the prior 15 years.”

Responded Hoffmann: “If he thinks things have progressed on town center, he should tell the community what he knows that we don’t know. Because nothing’s happening on the town center….[Rice] wants everybody to think that everything’s great, that everything is going to work out, and we should all sit back and trust the system. Well, we’ve been doing that for 10 years — and it hasn’t worked.”

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