Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan defended yesterday his handling of a new county community where hundreds of homes have been built too high, and he said he has a better record of standing up to developers and preserving land than Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Duncan, an undeclared Democratic candidate for governor, said he took prompt and appropriate action after learning that more than 400 homes in Clarksburg, a planned community in northern Montgomery, were built in excess of height limits.
"When I found out there was a problem, that things were being done wrongly, I stepped forward and said we are going to stop that," Duncan said on the Marc Steiner Show on WYPR radio. "The development community is now not happy with me because we stepped in and said, 'This is not going to continue.'
"I think we need to work very hard in the state to get more Smart Growth," he said, referring to the anti-sprawl initiative of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening. "We need to bring Smart Growth back to the state. Bob Ehrlich sort of eliminated that from the state of Maryland."
As he prepares to run for governor, Duncan is facing questions about his administration's role in development violations in Clarksburg, an issue that could have political implications if it weakens his support in Montgomery County. Political experts say Duncan must win big in his home county to defeat Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley in an expected Democratic primary for governor. Growth, environmental and land-use issues are expected to be widely discussed in the governor's race.
Developers built too high, Duncan said, because a Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission employee, now the subject of a criminal investigation, is alleged to have altered documents.
Duncan, who has received substantial campaign donations from developers, said he has balanced the interests of construction companies and preservationists. He said Montgomery has preserved more farmland than any county in the nation, and he criticized Ehrlich for transferring money from land-buying programs to help balance the state budget.
"When you take $370 million out of land preservation and ... spend it on other things, you basically have wiped out the land-preservation program in the state of Maryland," Duncan said.
An Ehrlich spokesman said the state budget has $120 million for land preservation, and that the governor is embarking on a plan - mandated by the legislature - to replace transferred preservation money.
"The administration and its partners have preserved roughly 30,000 additional acres ... since the governor assumed office," spokesman Henry Fawell said.
Fawell said the governor would not get involved in Clarksburg building violations.
"The mismanagement in Clarksburg is a local problem," he said. "County Executive Duncan has his own local problems to deal with, so he should leave the heavy lifting to Governor Ehrlich."
Sun staff writer Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.