Slow growth vs. old guard


Things are getting ugly in the Carroll County town of Hampstead, pop. 3,860.

It started when the slow-growth crowd won the local elections in May. Since then, members of that group have goaded one planning commissioner into quitting, started investigations into two who wouldn't quit and passed -- quickly -- four slow-growth ordinances.

"I'm reading all the ordinances carefully, because I'm afraid there might be one in there to get rid of me," said Councilwoman Jacqueline Hyatt, the only council member who isn't part of the new wave.

Hampstead's bare-knuckled political scrap is more characteristic of the big city than of a piece of rural Maryland. But, like many of the exurban towns beyond the Baltimore-Washington suburbs, growth has divided Hampstead.

In the past decade, Hampstead's population has tripled. The biggest developer in town has built 800 homes in 11 years. One school that opened four years ago already has 10 portable classrooms; new schools are at least three years away. Route 30, Hampstead's Main Street and the main commuting link to Baltimore, has several intersections that the State Highway Administration rates as "failing." A bypass road has been approved but not funded.

In the midst of all this, the slow-growth activists felt that they had been patronized by town officials for years, and that they had been told they didn't understand the laws or were raising questions at the wrong time, said Councilman Wayne Thomas, a neighborhood leader who was elected in 1993.

"The tension and the rift have been there forever," said Mayor Christopher Nevin, the leader of the slow-growth officials and vice president of commercial real estate for Provident Bank. "It's just that now the tables are turned."

Are they ever.

After the slow-growth slate won by a 4-1 margin in the May 9 election, the first person to go was Charles Walter, 79, a 20-year veteran of the town's Planning Commission. Mr. Walter quietly resigned after Mr. Nevin told him that the council would investigate board members for neglect of duty.

"I got called out of the clear blue sky and was told that I was going to be charged with something," Mr. Walter said.

"I didn't say he'd done something wrong," Mr. Nevin said. "It was friendly, and we shook hands when I left. Knowing what I knew, that at the next meeting the council would bring members up on charges, I'm not supposed to let him know that up front?"

Arthur H. Moler and William Drummond, the other two Planning Commission members the mayor asked to resign, refused to do so. A few days later, the council voted to investigate them. No charges have been made, but the town's new lawyer (the former lawyer was replaced at the first meeting) is taking a look.

The ouster of Mr. Walter outraged the old guard. In late May, five former mayors wrote Mr. Nevin that he should be ashamed of the "vindictive" ultimatum to Mr. Walter, an uncontentious public servant. Five former mayors never had before gotten together about anything, said C. Clinton Becker, the incumbent Mr. Nevin defeated.

"They were as disgusted as I am," Mr. Becker said. "We don't agree with what's going on in town."

On June 13, the mayor and the council squirmed as Katherine Walter, Mr. Walter's wife of 56 years, stood at a council meeting, recounting her husband's service to the town and how he had earned the nickname "Doc" with the volunteer fire and ambulance company. She cried at the end of her talk.

The new leaders were dismissive. "They did this to try to embarrass this administration," said Mr. Thomas, one of the slow-growth council members. "This is grandstanding to the max, and they're using Mrs. Walter and Mr. Walter to do it."

Mayor Nevin, who won the election 433 to 115, said, "That letter was written by someone who was soundly defeated, whose views were soundly defeated."

Mr. Walter wasn't the only one to go. Gary W. Bauer, a former councilman, will have to resign from the Board of Zoning Appeals because the new council voted to pay members astipend. Mr. Bauer is a Carroll County school board member, and state law prevents a person from holding two paid public offices.

At the first meeting of the new council, a week after the election, new members arrived with five fully drafted ordinances, some complex. "I feel like I missed a meeting," Ms. Hyatt said at the time.

Mr. Moler, one of the Planning Commission members who refused to resign, said Hampstead's new leaders are attempting to slam the very door they came through.

"We're not in favor of that," said Mr. Moler, who lost his council seat in the May election. "If we had been, the people who are trying to write the ordinances wouldn't be here."

Mr. Nevin said it isn't his intention to stop growth, but rather "to put the proper controls on development until adequate facilities are in place -- the schools, the roads," he said.

"It's still a nice small town, a nice place to live," he said.

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