Maryland's fastest growth creates problems

Clarksburg grew by more than 650 percent, census says

  • Tim DeArros, manager of Clarksburg's Upcounty liquor store, helps Nancy Scalone, who moved from Philadelphia two and a half years ago, with a purchase.
Tim DeArros, manager of Clarksburg's Upcounty liquor… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
February 11, 2011|By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

Drive along Snowden Farm Parkway in Clarksburg and you can catch a glimpse of two completely different worlds. On one side, a landscape of narrow roads snaking their way around rolling hills, still snow-covered and dotted with farm equipment and red barns.

But across the road, the bucolic scene gives way abruptly to rows of half-finished town homes and handsome brick-and-stone multistory houses, packed tightly together and abutting Little Bennett Elementary School.

The scene hints at the explosive, sometimes painful, growth hitting this part of Montgomery County — officially the fastest-growing area in Maryland. Census data released this week showed that Clarksburg's population grew by more than 650 percent in the last decade, to nearly 14,000.

"The growth is just like 'boom,' " said Maggy Fagan, an administrative assistant for Michael Harris Homes, who was showing a 2,800-square-foot model home on Brick Hearth Circle on Thursday.

"People want to get out of the city and the hustle and the bustle. They'd rather just ride along," she said, mimicking the area's gently rolling roads with a sway of her arm.

County officials have long planned for and expected the growth in Clarksburg, as the Washington suburbs pushed further and futher north along Interstate 270. But there have been growing pains, too, with residents saying they did not get the retail developments and infrastructure promised in the county's master plan for the town, approved in 1994.

All over Clarksburg, road signs warn drivers of streets that abruptly come to an end. There is just a single retail center, a small cluster including a Subway, the Upcounty liquor store, a beauty salon, and an insurance agency. The Mayorga Cafe on the end of the strip went out of business not long ago, its doors locked and the orange interior unlit.

"There's just not enough foot traffic," said Nancy Scalone, who moved here 21/2 years ago from Philadelphia. Just eight or nine months ago, her home was the only one standing on her block; now the whole block is filled, said Scalone, who commutes to a job in Gaithersburg.

When told that Clarksburg's population has increased six-fold in the last 10 years, few in town are surprised.

"That is a significant number," said Nancy Floreen, an at-large County Council member, "but really, Montgomery County planned a series of cities along our growth spine along the I-270 corridor, and Clarksburg has for us been the last frontier."

Growth has brought diversity to Clarksburg, where minorities made up less than 10 percent of the 1,834 residents in 2000. By last year, it included 6,065 white residents, 2,027 blacks, 4,625 Asians and 1,348 Hispanics, according to Census data.

"It's extremely diverse, and that's one of the fabulous, fun things," said Tim DeArros, who manages the Upcounty liquor store in the Clarksburg Highlands shopping area on Stringtown Road.

Nearby, employees at the Subway shop conversed in Spanish with each other in between serving the stream of sleekly dressed businesswomen on Bluetooth devices and tow truck drivers stopping in for lunch.

Residents were promised "a little treasure in the middle of all this green space," DeArros said, including a true mixed-use development. Instead, while townhomes and single-family homes have gone up at a frenzied pace, major retail centers — especially a grocery store — have not arrived to serve the thousands of new residents, he said.

Scalone said she must drive about three miles to Germantown to do her grocery shopping. The lack of amenities, DeArros said, is the major factor slowing Clarksburg's growth.

"By now we should be twice the amount of people we are," DeArros said. Clarksburg's location, nestled along I-270, is perfect for commuters heading to Virginia, Washington, and other towns in Montgomery County, he said.

The planned retail project has been hindered by several factors, including the recession and disputes over financing.

The heart of the unincorporated community, Clarksburg Town Center, remains unfinished years after the developer pledged to build a substantial shopping complex there, with a grocery store, eateries and shops. Residents had complained about six years ago that the developer was deviating from the original plan for the community, and after being threatened with fines, the company pledged to finish more than $10 million worth of improvements, including the retail center.

Lynn Fantle, president of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee, says the developer has said no retailers are interested in building there because the plan requires construction of an expensive multi-level parking garage. The plaza envisioned in the original plan, where shoppers would stroll, now is just an open hill.

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