The Hampstead Town Council on Tuesday, Dec. 11, voted to rezone the Hampstead Overlook property from industrial to residential after a fiery public hearing, during which speakers raised voices and made accusations against lawmakers.
Councilman Joseph Renehan was the only council member to vote against the petition, and with a vote of 4-1 the rezoning was granted. He told the Times Wednesday that he voted no because of traffic concerns.
“I love this town,” said Sharon Callahan, chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, and Hampstead resident of 15 years. “Sitting here tonight and at these meetings, in which we welcome public comment, to sit there and listen to people behind me be disrespectful to the Town Council and to others speaking, to be accusing people of unethical, wrongful things … is very hard to listen to that and focus on the issues, which are real issues and we respect what they’re concerned about.”
Callahan referred to an earlier speaker who accused council members of taking bribes.
“I hope that the council hasn’t benefited at all from this plan,“ said Tom Vento, of Houcksville Road just beyond town limits. “Benefited by, I don’t know, taking you out to dinner, on vacation.”
Mayor Christopher Nevin and Councilman Wayne Thomas, who combined have almost 50 years of public service in the town, later said those remarks crossed a line.
J. Brooks Leahy, the attorney representing Florida Rock Properties Inc., the development company hoping to build a more than 250 home residential community on a 118-acre lot, called company leaders to the witness table during the quasi-judicial hearing that would result in the town again rezoning the property from restricted industrial to residential.
The lawyer asked questions of David deVilliers Jr. and Dave deVilliers III, the president and vice president of Florida Rock, to present a timeline of events relating to the proposed Hampstead Overlook development.
The company purchased the property from the Leister Family — it was a dairy farm — in March of 2008. It intended to build an industrial center, then dubbed “Hampstead Trade Center,” that required significant upgrades to the surrounding infrastructure.
A Carroll County grant was obtained for the off-site improvements, and it seemed plausible and profitable to build an industrial plant. The costs of the infrastructural improvements soared and the $5.3 million county grant no longer sufficed. The county wouldn’t increase funds and the additional $4.2 million, which Florida Rock would’ve had to shoulder, changed the economic outlook of the project.
It was no longer feasible as an industrial property, deVilliers Jr. explained. “No one can spend the kind of money — it was roughly $10 million — just to cover off-site infrastructure for 1 million square feet of industrial development in the Carroll County market.”
The Town of Hampstead had already undergone a comprehensive zoning change around 2010-11 and the property had been zoned industrial, which conflicted with the feasibility of the project.
Council rezoned the property in 2016. Hampstead officials this fall recognized an error in the advertising process leading to the introduction of the rezoning petition two years ago. The 4-1 vote Tuesday confirmed the decision two years ago.
The community has come out en masse to rally against the development at planning commission and Town Council meetings since September. Critics have said it’s unsafe to put families on the site because of arsenic and chlorinated solvents — trichloroethylene, or TCE; and tetrachloroethylene, or PCE — discovered on the land.
Both chemicals are most commonly discharged by industrial degreasing operations and have been associated with cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2009 “water samples collected from beneath the property reported trace amounts of chlorinated solvents (tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene) in the groundwater beneath the site,” a Maryland Department of the Environment fact sheet details.
In order to use the property for residences, the MDE, as part of its Voluntary Cleanup Program, required Florida Rock to complete a response. The developer will not use groundwater from the property, and plans to dig up arsenic and to bury and cap it in one segment of the property.
Experts from the state agency attended the Oct. 24 Planning and Zoning meeting, telling the public that based on MDE standards, it’s safe for families to live on the land. The concerned community members remained adamant.
Some have demanded more testing. Florida Rock said it would pursue further environmental examinations known as soil vapor testing and has submitted a work plan to MDE, deVilliers III explained Tuesday. The company is still waiting on a contingent of concerned citizens to come back to it with a suggestion for a third-party company to conduct the tests.
Residents have also criticized the proposed development because, with only one entrance and exit in the original concept plan, they said it will increase traffic considerably. Florida Rock offered a glimpse of its latest concept plan at the meeting Tuesday. It now features an additional connection onto Doss Garland Road.
“The second entrance was big to us,” said Karl Mauck, who lives on Houcksville Road and has been consistent in voicing his concerns about traffic, “and I appreciate you listening.”
Renehan, the lone vote against the rezoning petition Tuesday, said that while the added entrance-exit is promising, he remains concerned about the traffic impact that 250-plus homes would create.
“Doss Garland Road and Houcksville (Road), you know, they’re two very, very small roads; and the ingress and egress of the roads, that really concerns me,” he said Wednesday.
Now that council has approved rezoning, the development will have to continue through a 19-step development process, according to the town. A public hearing about the concept plan is scheduled to immediately precede the town planning commission hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 19.
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Commission members have an opportunity to review the plan before voting to approve or deny the plan at a later meeting.