MOUNT AIRY — Thursday's public hearing about a developer's request for a state water-rights permit lasted more than two hours, but the meeting really was over before it began.
The hearing was called to allow Frall Developers Inc. to explain its application for a state permit to build a water and sewer system to serve three proposed developments on 516 acres south of town.
The application has been the target of opposition by nearby residents who are worried the project could harm their wells.
But shortly before the meeting began, Frall attorney William Fallon told hearing officer Gary Setzer, director of the state Department of Natural Resources' water and mineral management program, that the developer declined to make a presentation.
The tactic angered some of the 47 residents who turned out at Calvary United Methodist Church on South Main Street for the hearing and left them wondering how they understand the project when no information had been presented.
"I'm very disappointed the applicant is not prepared to give any kind of educational statement," said Karen McFarland, vice president of the Penn ShopCivic Association Inc. "Most of us have no idea what you're trying to do."
Frall's move also left Setzer and other state officials present scratching their heads. Setzer said it was the first time in thedozen or so hearings over which he has presided in the past 18 months that the applicant has passed.
"I am, perhaps, as frustrated as you," Setzer told the group. "I essentially agree with a lot of what has been said here today, and it is frustrating."
The hearing ambled on for 2 hours before Setzer abruptly closed the session and, in a rare move, said another would be convened in the coming weeks.
The state cannot force Frall to make a presentation, but Setzer said his office will require the developer at least to produce visual aidesand other information for the next meeting.
Despite the rancor that cloaked Thursday's meeting, Fallon defended the developer's strategy. Though he made no presentation, the attorney and three engineers who accompanied him fielded individual questions about the project.
Fallon said the project was too complex for a simple question-and-answer session, and he criticized residents for not taking it upon themselves to show up more informed about such projects. He suggested that the residents associations take time to review the application -- and its attendant ground water studies -- which are on file with Frederick County government.
"I could've gone on for three hours aboutthe project and not answered any questions," he said. "The associations have the people power to go and copy the file."
What was lost because of the maneuvering at the hearing was meaningful discussion on Frall's plan to build three adjacent developments: Harvest Ridge, Penn Shop Estates and Samhill Estates. Plans call for single-family homes at the three sites, Fallon said. The density would be one unit per acre, meaning more than 500 new homes.
Water studies performed for Frall by a consultant showed that there was inadequate ground water to serve the new homes with wells, Fallon said. That led the developer to draft the plan to build a separate water and sewer system to serve the developments. To do that, Frall must receive a water-allocation permit from the state.
Adjacent residents -- led by the Penn Shop Civic Association and its president, Eugenia Gregory -- are worried that such a system would lower the ground water level in the area and deplete their wells.
"We're worried about getting our water cut off," said Gregory, whose group had approached the state about conducting the hearing.
If built, the system would become property of Frederick County, and eventually could be expanded to serve other growth in the area, Fallon said.
Setzer said a number of residents would be notified by mail when a date and time for a new meeting was set. Residents grumbled about the time of Thursday's meeting -- 4 p.m. -- and said that many concerned residents could not attend because they were at work. Setzer said he would try to schedule the next meeting in the evening.