EMMITSBURG, MD. -- EMMITSBURG, Md. -- Plans to build a $12 million ski resort outside this small town near the Pennsylvania border have been derailed by Frederick County's zoning administrator, who ruled that ski resorts are not permitted under the county zoning ordinance.

The developer of the proposed resort, Ski America Inc., said last week that it is appealing the May 15 ruling to the county board of zoning appeals. The company said that if the board upholds the zoning administrator's position, it would take the case to court, where another case pertaining to the resort is already pending.

Ski America, which owns the popular Ski Liberty resort about seven miles away in Fairfield, Pa., proposed last year to build a 500-acre ski and recreation resort on the heavily wooded, 1,710-foot-high College Mountain, a mile outside of Emmitsburg and an hour north of Washington.

The resort, Ski College Mountain, would include a lodge, restaurant and scenic nature trails, said Barry C. Maloney, a Bethesda real estate attorney and director of the Ski College Mountain project. Maloney said the company does not intend to build overnight lodging.

Developers have sought permission to build a resort on College Mountain for at least six years, and over the past year Ski America has increased its efforts to win both the necessary permits and the public's good will.

The proposed resort is a divisive issue in the town of 1,600, according to business leaders, residents and elected officials. It has been a major -- some say the most influential -- factor in the town's recent elections. None of the candidates in favor of the resort was elected, even though Emmitsburg officials have no direct control over the development. The resort would be outside the town limits.

To help win supporters, Ski America has held public meetings with the townspeople to outline its plans and mailed every resident a 100-page report on the proposed project, Maloney said. The report included explanations on how Ski America would minimize the traffic problems and protect the environment and water supply, the biggest concerns of resort opponents.

Meanwhile, the company has attempted to gain the water, grading and sediment control permits it needs to strip trees from the mountainside and to pump water from a nearby stream for resort facilities and snow-making machines.

Maloney said Ski America has obtained state permission to draw all the water it needs from the creek. But the Frederick County Commissioners, openly citing the developer's resort plans as the main factor, denied a request that would have allowed the company to begin cutting down trees. In doing so, the commissioners disregarded the county's planning staff recommendation to approve the request.

Ski America filed suit against the commission in April, claiming the commissioners were required to make a decision on the request based on whether the developer met the sediment control requirements, not whether the commissioners approved of the ski resort development. The suit is pending in Frederick County Circuit Court.

In the most recent action on the resort proposal, county zoning administrator Michael Thompson ruled that, according to the zoning ordinance, profit-making enterprises such as ski resorts are not permitted in a conservation zone, the designation assigned to the land on which the resort would be built. It was Thompson's first official ruling on the matter.

In its appeal, Ski America questions Thompson's ruling that ski areas are not "civic recreation areas," a zoning usage allowed in a conservation zone.

"We think our proposed recreation area is appropriate for a conservation zone and would not be as intense {a development} as they say it would," Maloney said. "It would conserve open space."

County officials said the developer could request a change in the zoning code that would specifically allow ski resorts, a move that would put the issue back into the hands of the county commissioners, who have all said they are against the resort.

The resort issue has torn at the threads that bind the close-knit community of Emmitsburg. Many business owners support the resort, believing it will help revive the town's economy, which is still suffering from the loss of nearly 150 jobs last year when the Freeman Shoe Co. shut down its Emmitsburg plant.

"We're for it," said Art Elder, resident of the Emmitsburg Business and Professional Association, which last week adopted a resolution in support of the ski resort. "The town has lain idle for such a long time. I'm at the point now where I'd like to see anything come in here," he said. "Maybe this will give us a boost."

Ski America's Maloney said the resort would generate 300 jobs during the 120-day ski season and as many as 30 permanent positions.

Town officials have said, however, that they don't buy Ski America's economic forecast and have vowed to continue the fight against the resort.

"The people, through the democratic process, elected officials they knew were opposed to the resort," said Edward Adelsberger, president of the town's board of commissioners. "I consider that a mandate."

Mary Gerstner, president of the Eyler Valley Citizens Association, said the group plans to continue to oppose the resort and is preparing to testify at the board of appeals hearing June 23. "We're getting ready to fight," she said. Mount St. Mary's College, located on the other side of the mountain from the proposed resort, is also actively opposing the development.

The final outcome of the resort proposal could rest with the county commissioners. Most of the commissioners declined to discuss Ski America's plans, citing the pending lawsuit. However, freshman commissioner Mark Hoke said he would vote in favor of the resort if Emmitsburg officials, who he said speak for the community, were not against it.

"They could use something up there, especially since Freeman Shoes closed down," Hoke said. "But the ones who have been there a long time are set in their ways. But if they're not careful, the community's going to die."