Overcrowded schools, congested roads and frequent outdoor water bans seem to be the way of life in Hampstead.
But they wouldn't have to be if town officials would merely enforce the community's adequate facilities ordinance, say members of Citizens for Adequate Facilities in North Carroll.
The informal group of 30 Hampstead families formed in December to bring more attention to what members consider a deteriorating quality of life in Hampstead.
In addition to writing letters and testifying at public meetings, members have raised money to prepare for potential court challenges to the town's adequate facilities law.
"We're just a group of people who are concerned about growth in this area of the county and the lack of adequate facilities to handle it," said Christopher Nevin, a group member who also sits on the town's Planning and Zoning Commission.
"To have residential growth, you have to have adequate facilities to support what you're building," he said, pointing out that the adequate facilities law allows officials to delay growth if services such as schools or roads are deemed inadequate.
"I don't think Hampstead currently does that," Mr. Nevin said.
Tonight, the group will find out if it has won its most recent battle when Hampstead's Board of Zoning Appeals decides whether to uphold the approval in August of more than 500 homes in North Carroll Farms Section IV by the town Planning and Zoning Commission.
At the same August meeting, the planning panel -- against the wishes of Mr. Nevin and fellow member Dennis Wertz -- gave preliminary approval to another proposed subdivision, Westwood Farms.
Group members said if the two developments in the northern end of town become reality, they will tear apart a community that already is bursting at the seams.
Town officials, however, worry that to deny a developer the ability to build on his land might draw Hampstead into a potentially costly lawsuit.
"Development is going to happen regardless of who is sitting in ** what chair," said Arthur Moler, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission. "The population is going to grow and they are going to need a place to live. It has always been the right of an individual to buy and build where they so choose in this country and I'm not trying to block that."
There seems to be little question that services are strained, if not inadequate, in Hampstead.
6 water use bans
The town has had outdoor water use bans during six of the past 10 summers and several town wells have been taken off line because nitrate levels are higher than federal standards.
Nevertheless, Mr. Moler maintains there is no problem with the town's water supply.
"They don't understand Carroll County, how we're getting water from the ground. They don't know how an aquifer works. If they could take a little time and get something from the library, I think they could discuss that a little more intelligently," he said.
Slow-growth advocates frequently point out that a preliminary State Highway Administration study gave Route 30 a grade "E," the second-lowest rating allowed, from Route 27 to just south of Hampstead. Highways officials gave the Route 30-Route 482 intersection a failing grade.
But the issue that seems to get residents most inflamed is crowded schools.
School officials have been called to planning commission and other meetings to explain where Hampstead's projects rank in the county capital budget. Also, school crowding was the primary reason residents filed appeals when the commission gave approval to North Carroll Farms and Westwood Park.
"Spring Garden Elementary has been rated inadequate and, by this time next year, North Carroll Middle is projected to be inadequate," Mr. Nevin said. "Hampstead Elementary is
But Mr. Moler insists -- on the advice of Town Attorney Richard Murray -- that Hampstead officials cannot delay a developer's plans based on inadequate roads and schools because both are controlled by county and state governments.
"If the law won't stand up in the courts, why have it on the books?" said Wayne Thomas, a councilman who says he is sympathetic to the adequate facilities group's concerns.
'Let them take us to court'
"If the law is there, we should use it," he said. "If the developers want to challenge us, let them take us to court. Then we'll know if a town that doesn't have control over its school facilities can deny development."
Group members were hoping for just such a judicial opinion when they brought the North Carroll Farms and Westwood Park approvals before the Hampstead Board of Zoning Appeals.
But board members sidestepped that issue and ruled Jan. 9 that the residents had no standing in the Westwood Park case because it was only a preliminary approval.
The North Carroll Farms case was continued from Jan. 9 until tonight because developer Martin K. P. Hill's attorney could not attend the earlier hearing.
To Mr. Moler, the board's Westwood Park ruling effectively closed the case. "They don't seem to understand the legal aspects of zoning and planning."
Hampstead master plan
Specifically, they don't understand that commission members base all planning decisions on the town's master plan, which has been in place since the early 1970s, Mr. Moler said.
Group members should work to change the master plan rather than simply protesting developments they don't like, he said.
Commission members are considering an update to the master plan, which was last revised in 1986. But on the whole, the plan does not need major revisions, Mr. Moler said.
"After these two developments [Westwood Park and North Carroll Farms] are finished, we will have utilized all the available capacity for sewage treatment," Mr. Moler said. "Plus, at that point, we will have concerns about adequate water."
Mr. Thomas said he finds this line of reasoning rather hypocritical, particularly because county government runs Hampstead's wastewater treatment plant.
The only difference is that sewer capacity is more easily defined than the adequacy of schools or roads, he said.
"The problem with all of this is that no one is taking responsibility," Mr. Thomas said. "We've defined what inadequate is, but there doesn't seem to be anyone willing to stand up and say who's the person who [can stop development]."