Landfill opposed by some in area; Owner seeks extension of two-year limit to get permits, finish project; 'Would devalue our homes'


For much of this decade, James Cunningham has been trying to win approval to open a rubble landfill on a site next to an older, filled-up dumping facility that for years has evoked concerns about pollution and other complaints from Gambrills-area neighbors.

At a public hearing last night, the neighbors were hoping his efforts to win that approval would have to continue into the next millennium.

Cunningham appeared before the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals, seeking a variance from requirements that had allowed him until January 1999 to get the necessary permits and complete the project.

The owner of a sand-and-gravel excavating company, Cunningham contends that he needs more than the two years allowed by the county for planning and approval because the state Department of the Environment has delayed his permit.

But residents along Evergreen Road just off Route 3, who have lived near the landfill for more than 20 years, say Cunningham brought on the delay.

"They've got a long list of site complaints against this guy," said Michael Powell, a lawyer representing residents in the Greater Gambrills Community Association, before the hearing.

Cunningham applied in 1993 to the county and state for permits to open another landfill on his property, the year after his first landfill -- which had reached capacity -- was supposed to close. The county granted a special exception to allow the new landfill, but it carried a two-year time limit to complete the project.

Two years later, in September 1995, the state Department of the Environment denied Cunningham's application for a new landfill because the company had not completed work to close the previous one. Agency documents showed the landfill was higher than it was supposed to have been.

After another two years, in 1997, when the landfill was finally capped, Cunningham and MDE entered into an agreement resolving issues related to the first landfill. The environmental agency began processing Cunningham's application to expand. At the same time, county officials decided that the two-year time limit on the 1993 special exception was to begin.

The time limit expired in January, and area residents have been fighting Cunningham, seeing this as a chance to keep the new landfill at bay longer.

"The landfill, if the application is granted in light of previous violations, we feel would devalue our homes," said Norman Harvey, an Evergreen Road resident who wants Cunningham sent back to the beginning of the process.

"He's had the time that's required by the county," Harvey said. "I have no idea why he hasn't completed what he needed to be completed."

Cunningham's attorney, Michael R. Roblyer, said his client has been delayed by the Department of the Environment. "It's impossible to get a permit from MDE within two years -- there's a year when you can't do anything because of the well testing," Roblyer said. "We've just received notice that public hearings will be held in December."

Roblyer said although Cunningham thought he could get the MDE approval within two years, his plans hit another snag last year when liners and a water extraction system were added to the requirements for new rubble landfills, and the company had to change and resubmit engineering documents.

"We've been working hard trying to get the permit process through," Roblyer said. "It's a long process."

Eighteen rubble landfills operate in Maryland, one of them in southern Anne Arundel.

Another area zoning case, scheduled before an administrative hearing officer and involving a proposal to erect a cellular phone tower behind the Skate Zone roller rink in Crofton, was postponed until Dec. 2.

American Tower Corp. is seeking a variance and a special exception to reduce the number of parking spaces at the roller skating rink from 125 to 106 and build its 140-foot monopole tower within a 60-by-60-foot locked fence.

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