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Penalty for error on project will stand

March 10, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Despite a developer's plea, the Washington County Planning Commission on Monday stuck with a penalty it imposed for clearing open land.

"We just made a mistake," Richard E. McCleary told the planning commission, as he asked it to reconsider his penalty.

McCleary said that just less than an acre of land accidentally was cleared at a project on Western Maryland Parkway.

The planning commission approved a building project there in 2002. One condition was that .99 acres be preserved as open space.

In December 2005, McCleary acknowledged that the preserved land had been cleared. He asked to pay money instead of replanting the open space, a tradeoff the county has discretion to accept.

McCleary's payment would have been $8,668.54. That was based on the possibility of instead replanting twice as much land as was cleared, which the planning commission required.

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In January, the planning commission voted 3-2 to reject the payment and instead have McCleary replant the site.

He also was ordered to pay a penalty of 30 cents per square foot, or about $12,900, according to a memo written by Michael Thompson, the county's director of planning and community development.

According to Thompson, McCleary wasn't present when the planning commission made its decision and asked for a chance to present his case.

In a split vote last month, the commission agreed to let him talk about his situation Monday. Commission member R. Ben Clopper said that was a rare exception.

McCleary told the commission Monday that an excavator removed the trees during a project that became "a long process." He said stakes marking the open space might have been removed by accident.

There was no evidence the clearing was intentional, commission member Terry Reiber said.

However, commission member Bernard Moser was not convinced.

"The ordinance says you shall be fined 30 cents per square foot," he said. "Where do you draw the line?"

McCleary's request did not gain enough support on the commission for another vote, so the penalty will stand.

It was not clear this week, however, the exact extent of the penalty.

Responding to a question from The Herald-Mail, Thompson wrote in an e-mail that McCleary had to pay the fine and replant one acre on the site.

The commission did not specify whether it wanted a second acre replanted off the site, an easement of one acre of forest land elsewhere in the county or a payment, "so in my opinion he can decide which option he wants to use," Thompson wrote.

McCleary did not a message left at his office Tuesday and another message Wednesday.

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