By the end of the evening Tuesday, Nov. 13, Hampstead Mayor Christopher Nevin and resident Brittany Phillips, a leading voice in opposition to a proposed development, agreed to meet one-on-one.
Phillips grew up on the Leister Family Farm, a more than 100-acre property that has since been sold and is slated to house what’s been dubbed Hampstead Overlook. She spoke out against the development when representatives of Florida Rock Properties Inc. — the developer — addressed the public at the Sept. 26 Hampstead Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
And again when Maryland Department of the Environment experts on Oct. 24 tried to quash citizen concern about volatile organic compounds discovered on the property.
Backed by her family and a body of research, Phillips took the microphone at the Hampstead Town Council meeting Tuesday. This time, minutes after the Town Council voted unanimously to reintroduce a zoning petition to pave way for the controversial development.
“We, the residents of Hampstead, remain gravely concerned about building homes on the Hampstead Overlook property,” Phillips said, reading from prepared remarks. “In our findings, we have revealed numerous inconsistencies with regard to the information provided to us during that meeting.”
Phillips fired off pertinent points from the research she and her family compiled. And with the vote to determine whether to change zoning again pending, she called for the town to solicit third-party environmental testing organized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Hampstead, she said, should employ the EPA’s Targeted Brownfields Assessment program.
As defined by U.S. law, a brownfield site is “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant,” according to the MDE.
Audio:Resident Brittany Phillips testifies to Hampstead council about proposed development
The former Leister property, referred to as the Hampstead Trade Center in MDE records, is listed as a brownfield site, along with the adjacent Castle Farms development and nearby Black & Decker property.
EPA assessment services “are conducted by an EPA contractor on behalf of an eligible entity. Services include site assessments, cleanup options and cost estimates, and community outreach,” the federal agency details.
Municipalities, such as Hampstead, are eligible to apply for the brownfield assessment.
“We, as concerned citizens, are proposing for the Hampstead municipality to complete and submit the necessary information for the EPA to conduct further testing to ensure the safety of everyone,” Phillips said, offering to aid the town in completing the application to ease the potential burden.
“So, as I said before the meeting, you and I will meet at a time mutually convenient. I’ll have [Town Manager] Tammi [Ledley] there,” Nevin responded. “We’ll talk about this and see where we can get.”
Before the meeting Nevin approached and spoke with members of the Leister family, including Phillips’ mother, Carol Leister Phillips. Leister Phillips told the Times that Nevin discouraged her daughter from addressing the council and the audience at the public council meeting Tuesday.
“Well have her call me. We’ll sit down. Sometimes you can do better face-to-face with someone,” Leister Phillips said she remembered Nevin saying.
“I felt he was extremely disrespectful,” Leister Phillips said. “The Leister family, as well as many, many Hampstead residents who share the same concern, we all want the same thing: to make the right decision.”
And the audience wanted an affirmative response on the spot.
“Why, why can’t you just say yes?” a voice rang out.
“It’s my job to sit down and talk with somebody and understand this program,” Nevin said. “This is the first I’m hearing of it in a public setting. … That’s the olive branch, that we’ll sit down and talk about it.”
Phillips called for her meeting with Nevin and Ledley to be recorded.
“No, it’s just you, me and Tammi,” Nevin told Phillips. “I mean, I’m not hiding anything from you; we’re just going to sit down and talk about it.”
Then it should be recorded, Phillips said, so that everybody can hear.
“I don’t understand your reluctance,” Nevin said.
“I have absolutely no reluctance,” Phillips told the mayor. “I’m just saying I think that everyone should know what we talk about, what I present to you and what we speak about. I don’t think there’s anything to hide.”
Nevin called it an unusual request but relented, agreeing to have the meeting recorded.
In a phone interview with the Times Wednesday, Phillips said she did not appreciate Nevin’s response.
“I found it interesting that he immediately tried to deflect and make it seem like I was reluctant to meet with him,” she said.
Phillips is not sure the meeting would be worthwhile, she said Wednesday: “It would be more to sway me to drop it … basically trying to shut us up.”
Nevin on Wednesday stood by his reasoning for a one-on-one reasoning. It was a lot of information to take in at once and sometimes lower-key meetings are more productive, he said.
“There’s no way you can, as somebody sitting in that kind of setting, take that much information in what could be an emotionally charged situation,” Nevin told the Times Wednesday, “and somehow respond to that immediately without having the opportunity to go through what seemed like two-and-half plus pages of script to understand fully what they were asking. …
“The information [Phillips] was giving is the kind of stuff that needs to be considered, viewed, thought about, researched and then replied to.”
Asked if he or the town would entertain Phillips proposal, Nevin said, “I am waiting for [Phillips] to send me the information she presented and what I requested last night. I can’t comment on it because I haven’t seen it.”
Whether Phillips and Nevin will meet remains to be seen. In the meantime the project will move along through some steps its already cleared.
Florida Rock is proposing, for the second time, that the town rezone the company’s more than 118-acre property from industrial to residential to accommodate a roughly 270-home community.
Hampstead accepted the zoning change in 2016, Ledley said. Not until recently did town staff recognize they had failed to adhere to state code in advertising a mandatory public hearing preceding council’s final vote on the petition, she added.
Maryland law calls for municipalities to advertise twice at least 14-days before the public hearing, Ledley explained. “We only advertised once.”
The reintroduced zoning petition will go before the town Planning and Zoning Commission at its monthly meeting Wednesday, Nov. 28. That commission will vote on a recommendation to send to the Town Council — to approve or deny the petition.
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Regardless of the commission’s recommendation the petition will return to the council table for final approval at the monthly council meeting Tuesday, Dec. 11. Hampstead will entertain a public hearing immediately before the December meeting.