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Hampstead residents voice concerns, questions about proposal to add Dollar General

Hampstead’s Planning and Zoning Commission heard concerns Wednesday night from residents on the concept site plan for a proposed Dollar General Store at 834 S. Main St.

Five residents came in person to speak on the record, and one of them brought a petition against the proposal that was signed by about 1,400 people. The audio recording of the meeting is archived on the town’s website under “Meetings and Events.”

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A representative for the developer PennTex Ventures, Ashley Weinman, spoke before the meeting. She said PennTex has built more than 100 Dollar General stores in three states, and she hoped to address the question of why the company wanted to return to Hampstead after a previous store in the area had closed.

She said the previous location, in the Roberts Field Shopping Center, was not a free-standing store, which doesn’t match their current business model. She said the proposed location is on the town’s main thoroughfare and has sidewalk access. The site is near retail and restaurant stores that would provide mutual benefit of business, she said.

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“Dollar General has been wanting to come back into Hampstead since they’ve closed,” she said.

She added in closing, “Dollar General isn’t your junky dollar store as it was once known. They can be better described as the latter part of their name, which is a general store.”

Jeffrey Harman, civil engineer with the design firm for the project, Becker Morgan Group, summarized the concept site plan, which was presented at the commission’s previous meeting, and answered questions.

“We’re trying to really beautify the site so it’s fitting with the downtown redevelopment,” he said when speaking about the brick-like facade, sign adjustments and green space planting planned for the site.

The Maryland State Highway Administration has reviewed the proposed entrance and exit, and the county’s planning department has reviewed the zoning so far, he said.

Melissa Brooks was the first resident to speak. She presented a petition signed by more than 1,400 residents asking the commission to oppose the Dollar General store. Signers also said they would boycott the store if it was built.

She sad she loves the town and its charm after living there for about 10 years. She questioned the aesthetics and economic impact on the town.

While the facade may be designed to fit in, “I have never seen a Dollar General that did not have racks of clothes and and bins of clearance items out front of the store. That view will not fit in with the aesthetics of our town,” she said. Brooks was also concerned that the store’s presence could force other businesses into closing.

Later, a member of the commission asked Weinman if the items being displayed in front of the store has happened at all locations. She said it did not in places where it is against town code. In Hampstead, town code would allow it as long as sidewalks aren’t impeded and the items are brought inside overnight.

Charles Bevard said he has been on South Main Street since the 1970s, and watched the property change over time.

He asked whether an Office of the State Fire Marshal investigation at the site was complete. The fire at the site’s previous occupant, Old Town Grill, on Dec. 15, 2018, was initially under investigation for origin and cause. Weinman said the investigation would have to be complete in order for them to have put the property under contract.

Bevard also asked whether the planners had considered the traffic speed and congestion around the entrance and whether deliveries to the store would cause noise for residents late at night. Weinman said the deliveries happen during business hours.

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“I do wish you success if you go go ahead with this. I’m not against business,” he said. “But you failed once up here.” He added that he hoped there would be different management.

Rich Sarbu, who said he has been a Hampstead resident on and off for 20 years, said it’s a quaint town with rich history. He feels that having a restaurant in that location — Old Town Grill, and Dean’s Restaurant before that — is a staple of the area.

He identified himself as someone who made multiple offers on the property and wanted to bring in an experienced chef and manager to start another restaurant at the location.

“I wanted to keep this internal to Hampstead. It would have taken me paying a little bit more to make this happen, I was actually willing to do that,” he said.

Sarbu did not agree with having a Dollar General at the location when there are similar stores like a dollar store and a Walmart nearby, and said it would have a negative impact on other retail stores and full-service grocery stores, while a restaurant would diversify revenue for the town. He said he was also concerned that the store would affect local homeowners’ property taxes and the value of homes.

Speaking of the character of Hampstead, he said, “Corporations would break that down and change that chemistry for their benefit, not ours. This is not the right long-term solution for what this town needs.”

The construction tends to take about 120-150 days after all approvals are finished, Weinman said. The Hampstead Planning and Zoning Commission will vote on whether to approve the concept site plan at a future meeting, though it’s not clear when. The commission meets the fourth Wednesday of each month.

Harman, in response to one question, talked about stormwater management. He said that the plants and the grading planned for the site would reduce runoff and improve the amount of pollutants that are filtered out of the watershed.

Judy Reed said she finds Dollar General stores quick and convenient when she is traveling for work.

“It’s so much better to go into a dollar general than to go into a big grocery story trying to find something,” she said.

She said that what can make a location bad is the employees, and she asked if there was anything Hampstead could do if there were problems. Weinman said she would give Reed her card and would raise the issue with corporate Dollar General representatives on her behalf if there was a problem.

At the meeting after the public hearing, Zoning Administrator Tammi Ledley ran through the town code requirements for the concept site plan, which are spelled out in the town’s code. The proposed use of the site meets the zoning requirement and does not violate town and county codes, she said. It hasn’t been found to create inadequacy in services such as emergency response or water and sewer.

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