Photo by the author.

If the Maryland suburbs held a pageant, Clarksburg might win the contest for Miss Step. A recent decision by the Montgomery County Planning Board only enhances the community’s claim to the title.

According to this decision, current Clarksburg residents may not get a day care facility they badly need because future residents will generate too much car traffic for existing roads.

The last planned development along I-270 in upper Montgomery County, Clarksburg has been a headache for the county government since before construction started in 2000. Clarksburg was supposed to be a transit-oriented community.

What transit? The MARC train station in Boyds, an as-yet purely notional Corridor Cities Transitway that will not even go all the way to Clarksburg, and RideOn bus #75, which operates every half hour on weekdays only.

In 2005, Clarksburg residents discovered a string of site plan violations that led to the appointment of an ombudswoman and the resignation of the Planning Board chairman.

Clarksburg Town Center still doesn’t have its Town Center retail district, and there’s a new working group to help figure out who will pay for the roads and parks in the parts of Clarksburg that have already been built.

Nonetheless, some 14,000 people now live in Clarksburg, and they need services nearby. Daycare is an obvious priority among these services, and so a planned day care center and after school program, at the intersection of MD 355 and West Old Baltimore Road, just north of Germantown, is welcome.

Unfortunately, it might not get built, due to the recent Planning Board decision which effectively prioritizes the needs of future Clarksburg residents for wider roads over the needs of current Clarksburg residents for nearby day care.

The reason for this backward logic is the Local Area Transportation Review (LATR) part of Montgomery County Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO). The LATR is based on “critical lane volume” (CLV), a measure of the number of vehicles moving through an intersection’s through or left-turn lanes in an hour.

The logic of the Planning Board’s decision goes like this:

  1. The Planning Board has already approved a lot of new housing in the area. (The Planning Board staff report does not name the approved developments, but they probably include Miller & Smith’s “Gallery Park” and Winchester Homes’s first development at Cabin Branch.)
  2. When this housing has been built and people move in, they will drive through the intersection next to the site of the proposed day care.
  3. When they drive through the intersection, it will become unacceptably congested.
  4. Therefore, if the day care wants to operate at capacity, it needs to “improve” (i.e., widen) the intersection to account for one and a half times the number of car trips the day care will generate. The widening is to consist of three turn lanes: a southbound right-turn lane on MD 355, a northbound left-turn lane on MD 355, and an eastbound right-turn lane on West Old Baltimore Road. And it may cost $360,000.

Ross Flax, the owner of the day care, points out that day care providers are not experts in road construction and that the day care will account for only 20% of the total additional trips the day care, plus the approved but unbuilt developments, will generate. He has therefore offered to put 20% of the costs ($72,000) in escrow to fund later construction.

But the LATR guidelines say that “improvements” must be “permitted and bonded, under construction, or under contract for construction” before building permits can be issued. Therefore, the day care must pay the whole cost, now. Miller & Smith and Winchester Homes will pay their shares back to the day care later, when they begin building.

However, the day care cannot afford the whole $360,000, Flax has told the Gazette. And operating at half capacity, as would be allowed without the turn lanes, may not be economical. As a result, it is “likely” that he won’t open the day care at all unless the Planning Board reconsiders the decision.

In short, the Planning Board first approved large housing developments, whose residents must drive everywhere. Then, they approved more large housing developments, whose future residents will also have to drive everywhere. And now they’re requiring a day care, which is intended to serve the current residents, to pay for the wider roads all those extra cars will need.

Memo to the Planning Board: There must be a better plan.