MOUNT AIRY - The Western annexation time bomb has been defused -- or so it appears.
On Monday, the Town Council revealed it has been negotiating with Frall Developers Inc. about paying $1.25 million for 81 acres the builder had targeted for a hotly opposed development.
In three closed meetings over the past six weeks, town administrators and Frall officials have been working out a deal for the purchase of the land, located north of Prospect Road in Frederick County and referred to as the Western annexation.
The council was scheduled to act Monday on Frall's annexation request for the parcel, on which the developer plans to build 120 to 260 town house and apartment units.
At several town meetings, including a Sept. 17 public hearing on the request, many nearby residents lambasted Frall's plans, and pleaded with the council to deny the annexation.
But the council had been considering the proposal carefully because the land appears capable of providing large volumes of water to a town struggling to meet its current water needs.
Until Monday, the council seemed in a no-win situation.
A deal between Frall and the council would mean the town could have access to the water without having to take on the burden of additional development.
"It would give us over one-third more water supply than we have available at present," Council President Delaine Hobbs said. "It's also giving us a different aquifer. . . . So, if we had a catastrophe in the No.
1 well field, we'd have a protected water supply for the town."
For the purchase, the town would use $500,000 it has collected in new-development fees and $750,000 to be financed with a bond issue, Hobbs said.
"It will not cost the taxpayers one red cent," he said.
The land's value was assessed at $2.7 million, provided it received the residential zoning Frall was seeking. Two months ago, Frall offered the land to the town for $1.7 million.
Development on the land would be limited to park and open-space facilities, Hobbs said.
Some residents opposed to Frall's development plan viewed news of a possible purchase as the ideal solution.
"It's a great idea," Mount Airy Village resident Pam Brewer told the council. "Thank you for putting your energy into it."
Others weren't so sure. Michael Boyer of Main Street asked the council whether the money might be more wisely spent on a search for water elsewhere.
Hobbs said, "We've looked just about everywhere there is to look."
Boyer also suggested the purchase be put to a referendum.
The council scheduled a public meeting at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19, for an update on the negotiations. A settlement might be announced at the meeting.