For the past decade, Hampstead's leaders have directed their attention to the housing developments on the outskirts of town that transformed the small village into a suburban enclave.
Now, Hampstead officials have turned their focus inward to the heart of town -- Main Street.
For the first time, the town will develop a detailed plan to guide improvements and development on Main Street, as part of the revision of its 10-year-old comprehensive plan.
A Main Street revitalization committee is being formed to lead the effort, and by the end of the year, town officials plan to hire a consultant to help map a new vision of Hampstead's downtown district.
"We want to come up with realistic recommendations for how we can improve the Main Street area," said Dennis E. Wertz, chairman of Hampstead's Planning and Zoning Commission.
"I think there's a lot of potential there. We have a lot of vital businesses, but the appearance of Main Street leaves a lot to be desired," said Wertz.
Deteriorating curbs and sidewalks, the absence of pedestrian crossings, lack of parking and attractive landscaping are some of the problems in the downtown area.
Wertz persuaded the Town Council to include $20,000 in its fiscal 1997 budget toward the cost of hiring a consultant to help the town develop a detailed Main Street plan.
At its meeting earlier this week, the Planning and Zoning Commission heard an informal presentation from Cy Paumier, a partner with LDR International, a Columbia urban design and landscape architecture firm.
Hampstead has not hired Paumier to work on its Main Street project. Town officials plan to hire a consultant by the end of the year, after reviewing proposals from various firms, Wertz said.
Paumier, who has worked on main street revitalization projects throughout the United States and in England, said his impression of Hampstead's Main Street was that it lacked focus.
"The thing you really miss is arriving at the center of the community," he told the commission. "I think a longer-term goal might be to reconstruct some sort of a town green. Having a focus and a heart is important to the long-term vitality of a community and one of the key factors in stimulating investment."
Town officials define Main Street as the portion of Route 30 between North Woods Trail and the railroad crossing on the north end of town.
Paumier said that improving public areas of the town would encourage private landowners to do the same with their properties, thereby increasing land values.
He suggested that any Main Street revitalization plan should include a tree planting program, as well as sidewalk and curb improvements.
"If the public realm is deteriorating and unattractive, then private property owners don't do what they need to do."
In Hampstead, as in many small towns, the central shopping district has shifted from Main Street to nearby malls and shopping centers.
However, Paumier said he counted 20 to 30 "significant" businesses downtown and 50 historic homes, some of them well maintained, some showing evidence of neglect.
He said such a mix of commercial and residential uses strengthens a community.
Wayne H. Thomas, a councilman and planning commission member who heads the Main Street revitalization committee, said the group's main goal is to decide how the town should look in the future.
He said the committee probably will address such issues as rezoning, laws governing signage and use of historic buildings.
Thomas said he envisions a downtown with more common areas and specialty shops.
"There's not enough people places -- little areas with a few benches, trees, a place for people to congregate," he said.
A major component of the Main Street improvement program is the long-planned Hampstead bypass. Town officials hope that the road -- intended to relieve traffic congestion on Route 30 -- will create a more inviting environment for shoppers in the Main Street district.
As part of the bypass project, Thomas said the State Highway Administration will restore the Main Street portion of Route 30 to its original grade, rebuild curbs and sidewalks and turn the maintenance of the road over to Hampstead.
Thomas said the SHA may begin accepting construction bids for the bypass in the fall of 1998.
Main Street business owners generally are supportive of the town's initiatives to improve the downtown area.
"If you don't have a vision, you're going to end up with 50 percent of the Main Street housing owned by absentee landlords," said Richard C. Matthews, who has run Matthews Tire Co. on Main Street for 50 years. His father opened the garage in 1926.
"The Main Street type of shopping and entrepreneurship is the only way you're going to survive with Target and Wal-Mart," said Matthews, who served as a Carroll County state delegate from 1967 to 1995.
While recognizing the need for improvements in the downtown district, some merchants worry that the accompanying construction would hurt their business.
HTC "People have a hard enough time getting through Main Street now; if you make it harder, they're going to avoid it," said Seth Shipley, a councilman and owner of The Jeweler's Bench on Main Street.
Larry Klingenberg, the owner of Bob's Variety Store, which was founded by his father in 1960, said he's looking forward to working with the Main Street revitalization committee to minimize disruption of local businesses while the downtown district gets a face lift.
"Creating a street that people want to walk down instead of just drive through is only going to be a plus for everybody," he said.
Pub Date: 8/02/96