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Idea to limit Manchester building permits assailed


A proposed moratorium on building permits in Manchester, suggested by a council member as a way to combat a current water shortage, would do little to ease water problems there, officials from around the county say.

At a Manchester Town Council meeting Tuesday night, Christopher D'Amario suggested the moratorium, which would effectively halt development in the town at least until the current ban on outdoor use of water can be lifted.

"I can't in good conscience support any new business from coming into town when we can't provide enough water for the people we already have," Mr. D'Amario said, marking his personal water line in a growing political battle.

Mayor Earl A. J. Warehime Jr. has ordered that Mr. D'Amario, in conjunction with the town's manager and attorney, draft an ordinance for a possible vote July 27.

But town managers, including Manchester's own, argue that a moratorium wouldn't make good sense -- either in fiscal or water terms.

"The facts are that the new developments in the county that are already on the books have actually brought more water with them," says Hampstead Town Manager John A. Riley.

Water officials from around the county also generally agree that Manchester's focus on building permits is misplaced. They say that encouraging or even requiring the use of water-efficient fixtures and appliances would be more effective in reducing use and waste, which officials say is the primary cause for the current shortage.

"If they are having problems with water use right now, limiting the building isn't going to help," says Larry Bloom, assistant superintendent of Westminster's Cranberry water plant. "The thing you've got to stop is the outdoor water use. And that's hard because some people, no matter what, will run lots of water through their grass."

Awareness, Mr. Bloom and others say, can work. In Manchester, some businesses have already volunteered to cut use, even though the outdoor ban applies only to residences.

Judy Reed, the general manager of Rohrbaugh Bus in Manchester, says her company has begun using buckets instead of hoses to wash its vehicles, and in some cases has delayed bus cleanings until night so less water is lost to evaporation.

"We don't wash the cars as much," says Perry DePalmer, owner of DePalmer body shop in Manchester. "We're cutting back because we have a water problem. I myself want to be able to use water at my home."

The awareness prompted by the ban should be enough to help towns through even the driest of summers, officials say. Manchester has been unable to provide figures as to the effect of its limit on water use. But in Hampstead, Mr. Riley says, a nearly identical outdoor ban has caused water use to drop by one-third -- from as high as 470,000 gallons a day to the town average of 320,000.

Mr. D'Amario's proposal has already raised some eyebrows among developers. Robert Scott, an orthodontist in the county who is planning to build a retirement community in Manchester, says he is "concerned" about a moratorium, given that he has not applied for his building permits.

"I understand that they have a water problem," said Dr. Scott. "But I think at the same time the town recognizes there is a needed for this kind of [retirement] community."

Dr. Scott's community could run into opposition because his project will not bring new water into the town's supply. He says that's because digging a well on his site would only draw away from the water produced by a nearby town well.

Despite his oft-repeated concern about the water shortage, Mr. Short says he would suggest that any moratorium exempt Dr. Scott.

"A lot of older residents are interested in seeing that project come in," said the town manager.

A permanent solution to Manchester's water problems, Mr. Short said, will have to come from a long-term plan to expand the town's capacity for water storage.

Major structural changes will not be possible until Manchester has reviewed the results of a town-commissioned "hydraulic study," which a Delaware firm is scheduled to complete by the end of summer.

"I don't think a moratorium will ultimately come out of this," said Mr. Short. "And if enacted, any moratorium would have a lot of criteria. We want a lot of these projects to go forward because it's in the best interests of the community."

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