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Water dispute may delay subdivisions


Although Baltimore and Baltimore County settled one long-standing water dispute last week, a more recent disagreement could crimp developers' plans over a large portion of the northern and northeastern county.

City public works officials are concerned because the county has put off building a long-planned pumping station in Fullerton. They say the delay could put a strain on water delivery in the Perry Hall and Honeygo areas in the worst summer conditions.

As a result, George G. Balog, the city public works director, told county officials in October that the city would not approve water service for a large new retirement community called Oak Crest Village or for any other new subdivision in a large area covering most of Carney, Perry Hall, Honeygo and other connected water-delivery zones north of Towson.

Nothing has been delayed so far, and county officials are playing down the conflict.

But they concede that many projects could be held up if no agreement is reached soon.

The $200 million Oak Crest retirement community, planned on 85 acres at Joppa Road and Walther Boulevard by the owners of the Charlestown community in Catonsville, could be the first victim.

County officials have told the city that the pumping station is not a problem because the recession has halted or delayed most development in the area, reducing projected water needs.

They have argued that the smaller projects under way will keep problems from developing.

Mr. Balog said his engineers will review those arguments and that and he expects further negotiations with county officials before deciding whether to continue the moratorium on development approvals.

Fred Walker, vice president of the company planning to start work on Oak Crest Village in the spring, said he thinks that a new spirit of cooperation between city and county officials will prevent any delay.

Grading is expected to begin on Oak Crest next month, and Mr. Walker said he hopes the situation will be resolved by the time his company seeks a building permit in late May.

He cited last week's out-of-court resolution of a 15-year-old dispute between the two jurisdictions over water-billing rates as evidence that the city and county are cooperating more closely these days.

But county homebuilders are nervous. "We have no answers. That's the disturbing thing," said Louis J. Breitenothern Jr., president of the Baltimore County chapter of the Homebuilders Association of Maryland.

Arnold E. Jablon, the county zoning administrator, said he thinks that the issue "will be resolved a lot more quickly than you think. I don't think the city wants to push us against the wall."

Fred Homan, the county's budget director, and Gene L. Neff, who retired as public works director in November, said cutbacks in county public works projects between 1991 and 1993 threw the Fullerton project off track as the county struggled to cut its borrowing and debt interest payments.

The $10.4 million pumping station and a $6.1 million water line in the area are now scheduled for completion in 1997.

Gerald R. McHenry, county project engineer, said the new plant would provide eight pumps and a pipe connecting the station directly to the city's Montebello water-treatment plant.

After 2000, the county plans to build a water reservoir and treatment plant on the Fullerton site, west of Belair Road and north of the Baltimore Beltway on the north side of Ridge Road.

Once the reservoir was built, water could be pumped directly to Fullerton from the Susquehanna River, treated there and pumped to homes and businesses in the northern and eastern parts of the county.

Currently, Susquehanna water crosses the Fullerton site as it is pumped to Montebello, where it is purified and pumped back into the county.

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