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New Dollar General proposed for Hampstead at site of former Old Town Grill, but residents push back

A proposal to build a Dollar General in Hampstead at the site of the former Old Town Grill has sparked resistance from hundreds of residents.

Jim Roark, assistant zoning administrator, said via email that the concept plan conforms to all town code requirements and a retail store is a permitted legal use in the General Business Zoning District, which is the zoning at 1034 S. Main St. This zoning is in alignment with the surrounding businesses.

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The proposal has been a hot topic in Hampstead-focused Facebook groups. Some oppose the store and fear it might be bad for local businesses or close quickly because it is a bad fit for the community. Others are happy to see economic growth and an open business replace the Old Town Grill restaurant building, which has been closed since a fire in mid-December of 2018 caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

Melissa Brooks, a resident who is also active with the Hampstead Merchants Association, wrote a petition against Dollar General moving into the site. It had gathered more than 1,240 signatures by Friday evening.

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“Hampstead has small town charm that this store will harm, not in any aesthetic way, but in what this chain has done to other local businesses around it that it will directly compete with as has happened in many other small communities,” part of the petition reads. Brooks said he doesn’t necessarily oppose a Dollar General store in the area, but “it’s not a Main Street-type business,” she said.

Another separate Facebook post that drew close to 200 comments said that it is a difficult time for property management companies trying to lease spaces in the Hampstead area, and the effects of closures related to the coronavirus pandemic will only make things worse.

The concept plan was introduced to the town Planning and Zoning Commission at its May 27 meeting. The audio recording is archived on the town’s website.

The concept site plan for building the new store will be up for a public hearing before the commission on June 24 at 7 p.m. Hampstead residents are invited to comment on the concept site plan, which can be viewed between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at Hampstead Town Hall, at 1034 S. Carroll St.

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The commission reviews concept site plans to make sure the designs does not conflict with town code, the property deed, the town’s comprehensive plan and other considerations. It also considers whether proposals would stress infrastructure such as traffic, schools, emergency responders, or water and sewer use. The town’s planning process is outlined in the town code, available on its website.

Jeffrey Harman, a civil engineer with the design firm Becker Morgan Group, spoke about the plan, which includes demolishing the old restaurant and constructing a new 9,100-square-foot building with an on-site parking lot and a loading area in the rear.

The front and side facades of the building will have the look and feel of brick, with hopes to make the building fit with the aesthetic of the area. The front facade has varied heights at the roof line to give the building more of a downtown look. The sign is a “monument sign” designed to be similar to those in the shopping center across the street, Harman said.

“That is definitely an upgrade of what the standard Dollar General facade is,” he said.

The parking lot was designed so trucks can turn around on the site rather than having to do so on Md. 30. The plan includes changes to the parking lot entrance and exits, as well as landscaping across the front, to create “a little bit safer way” to get into the lot, Harman said.

According to the site plan, the amount of impervious surface will be reduced from the way the site is currently. The plan is to remove some parking space in the rear of the building where the property comes close to railroad tracks, in order to make sure that the the easement required for railroad maintenance is observed. Lighting will be mounted on the building and freestanding out front.

One Planning and Zoning Commission member commented that the sidewalks leading to the store would make it more convenient for those who were walking from surrounding residences. It wasn’t clear from the audio recording of the meeting which member stated this.

The company plans to request a waiver for four parking spaces, planning for 31 rather than the 35 that would be required for this size store.

Harman said they believe that the planned 31 spaces will be more than enough because Dollar General shoppers tend to be in and out quickly when shopping. He said, “9,100 feet is a good-size store, but it’s not 100,000 square feet, so you don’t have to walk 10 minutes from one side of the store to the other to get what you need.”

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