Despite persistent water shortages and pressure to control growth, the Mount Airy Town Council has approved the annexation of a 152-acre farm where a developer plans to build 275 homes, stirring opposition among residents.
CBI Development Group, which owns the farmland, is pursuing a plan to tap the Patapsco River as a water source and has offered to cover the $7 million capital costs of river water intake, a pipeline and a treatment plant. Its proposal is subject to approval from the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The plan has caused concern among the 8,500 residents of the town, which is in Frederick and Carroll counties.
Residents plan to petition for a referendum, possibly on the municipal ballot this spring. Organizers would need signatures from 20 percent of the town's registered voters.
"We have to fight this," said Patty Williamson, a member of the town's beautification committee. "We are pushing for signatures."
Council President John Medve called the petition drive "part of the democratic process. We will leave it to voters to determine whether they can support this annexation."
In a 4-1 vote Monday, the council annexed the Zeltman property, which lies along the South Branch of the Patapsco on the Frederick County side of the town.
The developer has said he will dedicate nearly 80 acres of the development for a park and a school, officials said yesterday.
"We are taking a responsible approach and taking control," Medve said. "With annexation, we can guide the actual development. We have a binding agreement with the developer outlining the amenities."
Residents question a proposed land swap included in the agreement with the developer, Williamson said. In exchange for the land dedicated to a school and park, Mount Airy would give CBI about 80 acres of what residents call rare wooded public land in the town.
"If you compare the parcels, one has a beautiful view of the Catoctin Mountains and the other is in a hollow," Williamson said. "The town would get the hollow."
According to the residents' Web site, MountAiryforum.org, the town's parkland, which is unimproved except for a one-mile nature trail, could be worth $20 million if developed.
"We are trying to save this property from development and create an environmentally protected zone," Williamson said.
Adding agricultural land to the town allows the developer to build considerably more houses. The attorney for CBI has asked the town to change the property's zoning from agricultural, which would allow one home for every 20 acres, to residential, which could allow as many as two homes per acre.
The developer is at least five years from breaking ground on the project, which the town would phase in with 40 homes annually, Medve said. No development would occur until the town found more water sources, he said.
"There will be no development until we have water," Medve said. "To all those who say Mount Airy has uncontrolled growth, I would say that is factually not true. We are aggressively controlling growth."