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Despite setbacks, Festival Foods will open its doors today


Festival Foods is opening today in Hampstead after opposition from residents and technicalities in the town's zoning ordinances threatened to keep the new supermarket from becoming a reality.

Still pending in Carroll County Circuit Court are lawsuits questioning the Board of Zoning Appeals' site plan approval and changes in Hampstead's zoning ordinance that paved the way for the 42,716-square-foot store and adjoining 13,800 square feet of retail space.

Asked what Festival's owners would do if courts determined that the decision and ordinance were not valid, Hampstead Town Manager John A. Riley could only laugh, "I don't know what would happen."

Charles D. Hollman, attorney for the retail center's developers, would not comment because the cases are pending.

Despite the legal muddle, Festival Foods is planning to open with a bang today. Visitors to the warehouselike store with "avenues" instead of aisles will be greeted with specials and other grand opening events, said co-manager Tim Feeser.

Exact plans were to be kept secret until today, he said.

"I'm not at liberty to say what they are," Mr. Feeser said of the grand opening events. The schedule does include a visit from the Carroll County commissioners.

Employees of the Super Thrift store across Route 30, plus 70 more hired to run the new store, have been working double shifts for the past month to stock shelves and complete training, Mr. Feeser said.

The Super Thrift -- owned by Scrivner Inc., which also owns Festival -- will be closing now that the new store is open.

"This store has a new register system, so the cashiers had to be re-educated," Mr. Feeser said.

"The office procedures are different, and the seafood and meat departments have new pieces of equipment that we did not have [at Super Thrift], and [employees] had to be trained on them," he said.

The new store, about 13,000 square feet larger than the Super Thrift, will have expanded seafood, produce, meat and deli departments, he said. Customers are encouraged to bag their own purchases and to join a savings club, which gives discounts on selected items.

"The store is very attractive and will definitely offer customers some savings on their grocery bill," Mr. Feeser said. "This is the first one in Maryland."

More than a year ago, Hampstead's Planning and Zoning Commission approved the Oakmont Green retail center on the east side of Route 30 across from Broadbeck Road, with Festival Foods as an anchor store.

In December 1992, the town's Board of Zoning Appeals denied approval because the shopping center's proposed storm water management pond was within a conservation zone and did not meet conservation zone requirements.

Two appeals were filed in Carroll County Circuit Court, one by the property owners stating the board's decision was wrong and one from those opposing the new shopping center. The opponents said the center was unnecessary, given unrented business spaces in the area, and would snarl traffic.

Carroll's Circuit Court decided to send the property owners' appeal back to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

In January 1993, the Town Council revised the ordinance to define storm water management ponds as a "utility" use that could be allowed in conservation zones. The changes also removed the board's responsibility to consider traffic and whether the area needed another shopping center.

The plan was reintroduced under the new ordinance and approved.

Opponents -- which included H. M. Mall Associates Limited Partnership of Baltimore, owners of the North Carroll Shopping Center where Super Thrift is -- filed another lawsuit in Circuit Court claiming the changes in the ordinance were made simply to suit Oakmont Green.

Town officials replied that the Oakmont Green proposal brought to light problems and inconsistencies that needed changing in Hampstead's zoning ordinances.

Hearing dates have not been set for the cases, said Hampstead attorney Richard C. Murray.

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