MOUNT AIRY — Five months after opening public debate on a developer's request fora hotly opposed water-use permit, state officials are on the brink of a decision.
The request by Frall Developers Inc. will be issued within two weeks, said Gary Setzer, director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' water and mineral management program, which is studying the application.
Frall has proposed three developments -- Harvest Ridge, Penn ShopEstates and Samhill Estates -- comprising about 500 single-family homes on 516 acres just south of Mount Airy. The developer wants to build a water and sewer system to serve the developments and needs a state water-use permit to do so.
The system would require drilling three 200-foot wells, which would provide the proposed developments with up to 90,600 gallons of water a day, with future expansion possible.
That prospect has a group of adjacent residents worried about the effects on their wells.
The task of the water resources administration is to determine whether the developer's use would hurt nearby residents.
The application was the subject of two contentious public hearings.
The first meeting, in January, was cut short when representatives from Frall declined to make a presentation, leaving residents and state officials puzzled and annoyed at having to grope for information.
Setzer, who presided over the January hearing, haltedthe session and ordered Frall to gather more information and return for a second session.
At that meeting, in March, the developer presented a parade of graphics and consultants that left some residents even more angry and confused.
After coming away from the hearings with little satisfaction, some residents took their case to state Delegate Thomas Hattery, D-Frederick.
"They felt the department was not sensitive to their concerns," the delegate said last week.
Hattery went on a tour of the site with state officials earlier this month.
"I do believe the department is trying to do an objective job,"he said. "There is no absolute guarantee."
Setzer said Hattery's input uncovered no significant information regarding the decision on the permit.
"It was pretty much reiterating the questions and concerns we'd heard at the hearing," he said.
Some residents said theyhave resigned themselves to a decision favorable to the developer.
"It looks as though (Frall President James) Frey's most likely go
ing to get his water permit," said Karen McFarland, secretary of the Penn Shop Road Civic Association, which has opposed the permit request.
Hattery said it's important that the water resources administration be vigilant in monitoring the situation and play a role in working to solve problems should they arise.
Whatever the decision, Setzer said it will be accompanied by more explanation than is usual.
The "considerable interest" in the application has compelled the department to include more detail in the decision, he said.
"There are some legitimate concerns, and we're going to try to address them," Setzer said. "Whether we're going to be able to come out with a win-win situation remains to be seen. It's nice if we're able to do that."