Town braces for big changes; Distribution center, discount store to add to Hampstead crush

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Two boxes will arrive at Hampstead's door next year: One is called Wal-Mart; the other, Sweetheart Cup Co.

When the boxes are opened, cars and trucks will stream out and come back in, sometimes as many as 623 more per hour than usual along congested Route 30.

Residents fear not so much that things in Hampstead will change, but that they will get worse.

The owners of Bob's Variety Store worry that the increased traffic will go beyond the rush-hour crawl that already keeps patrons from their doors.

Margaret Grimes worries that it will be harder for her brothers to move their farm equipment through town and that local businesses might die, leaving vacant storefronts.

Herbert Hewlett of Hampshire Road wonders how much longer he will have to wait to get out onto Route 30 when the additional 80 to 125 tractor-trailers a day roll out of the Sweetheart Cup distribution center.

And Stephen Brezler doesn't think he'll ever be able to trust his public officials again, after they kept the Sweetheart Cup deal secret until it was irrevocable.

Brezler will have a vivid reminder every day: From his two-story house on Houcksville Road, he will look directly across the street at the largest building in the state after the 1 million-square-foot Sweetheart Cup warehouse is built.

"It makes you suspicious if you're not told about projects that affect your neighborhood," Brezler said. "I wonder what else I'm not being apprised of."

Brezler said he and his neighbors support economic development and knew the land across was zoned industrial. But they resent not having some say -- not once being approached by either the county or the developer of the land where Sweetheart will build.

"Most people understand these things," Brezler said of the county's need to work quietly when first trying to lure an industry. "But at the point where the developer says OK, the county has to say, 'We have an obligation to take this to the public.' "

Trapped by traffic

Between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., as many as 950 cars per hour drive north on Route 30 -- Hampstead's Main Street -- past Bob's Variety Store as commuters make their way home. But hardly anyone comes into the family-owned business. If cars pull over to park, they'll have a difficult time getting back into the stream of traffic.

"We don't mind competition," said owner Bob Klingenberg. "But it has to be on fair ground."

The general stock in Bob's is the kind of thing that Wal-Mart and other discount stores have taken over across the nation: toys for last-minute stops before a child's birthday party; socks, underwear and sweat shirts; school supplies; sewing notions; a large crafts section with a rainbow of felt and ribbons.

He and his wife Sue have owned the store for 40 years. They say they've been through competition before with big discount stores -- an Ames was once where the Wal-Mart will be -- and that was when there were fewer people in town to spend money.

But they are disappointed that the county is allowing such obviously high-traffic businesses as Wal-Mart and Burger King to come in before the Hampstead bypass is built to ease Route 30 traffic.

If traffic gets worse on Route 30, they say, it will be harder for customers to get into the store. If Hampstead follows state recommendations to take away the parking spaces on the street in front of Bob's to create turning lanes onto Gill Avenue, Klingenberg says, he might as well close his doors.

The town is leaning against removing the parking spaces, but Klingenberg says he wishes all the traffic solutions had been ironed out before the county allowed Wal-Mart to start building.

"I just think it's too soon," he said.

Bypass on hold

The Hampstead bypass is on hold while biologists study a population of bog turtles, a federally protected species, living in the path of the proposed bypass.

Inside the Klingenbergs' store, formerly a movie theater, a customer can imagine that the Hampstead just outside the door is still as it was three decades ago: one lot deep on each side of Route 30 and less than a mile long. It was a little sister to Westminster and a country cousin to Baltimore.

Then the houses started going up. People from Baltimore and Washington moved to developments such as North Carroll Farms and Robert's Field that balloon out from the downtown. The population is 4,419 and growing: another 500 homes are under construction, or soon to be started.

Hampstead residents and town officials have expressed concern about the traffic Sweetheart Cup could add to Route 30, with 80 to 125 tractor-trailers a day expected to come in and leave the plant. But the Sweetheart truck traffic pales in comparison to what the new Wal-Mart and Burger King are expected to generate.

According to a study by The Traffic Group, a Towson firm hired by The Cordish Co., developers of North Carroll Shopping Center, the new stores would generate as many as 623 additional car trips in and out of the center in one hour.

Changing way of life

The Klingenbergs moved to Hampstead 40 years ago from Howard County to take over the variety store. They raised five children who have given them four grandchildren, all living nearby. The issue is not just whether they stay in business, they said.

"Each time something like this happens, it takes a little bit of the quality of the town," Sue Klingenberg said. "It turns it from a small town to a thoroughfare."

A town full of local businesses is different from one dependent on chains, she said. She and her husband work around the schedules of the high school athletes and college students who work for them. Another employee has been with them 18 years. They sell tickets at the cash register for a bingo fund-raiser for the North Carroll High School Class of 2002, for which their son, Michael, is a teacher-adviser.

Some people in town aren't that worried about the changes and say the new projects might even help.

"Most of the people are complaining about it, that it will hurt the town businesses, but hey, the town's growing," said Charles Jacobs, whose company benefits from Hampstead's building boom. He installs garage doors in new homes. "You got more houses going in here, and you gotta build with it. Why send them to Westminster to shop? Let's keep the money in Hampstead. I believe everyone will prosper."

Two teen-agers who were shopping in Bob's Variety Store for candles were excited about the Wal-Mart and Burger King.

"They'll have jobs for us," said Sarah Barron, 16, a North Carroll High School sophomore. "There's so many kids here. It's hard to find a job."

Ways around congestion

Others discount the impact of more traffic, which they say has been unbearable for years. Anyone who lives in town knows how to zigzag across Route 30 to and from back roads, so that they never have to drive on the highway during rush hour.

"The traffic's bad here anyhow," Jacobs said. "Everybody dealt with it all these years. A lot of your shoppers go out during the weekends and nights, when it's not so bad."

Loyal downtown customers, such as Margaret Grimes, say they have not intention of forsaking Bob's for a Wal-Mart. Grimes grew up on a farm outside town that her brothers still work. She comes back regularly to visit family and stopped at Bob's last week for several spools of mauve ribbon and artificial flowers for a crafts project.

"I think it's inevitable, but I don't think it's really necessary," said Grimes, who has lived in Frederick County for the last 20 years.

"There's plenty of Wal-Marts," she said.

The McDonald's has become the place for retired people to gather. Once, they would have gone to any of a few coffee shops and drugstore lunch counters for a cup of coffee, and run into a friend or neighbor.

"You knew the people," said Lula Leppo of Manchester. "Now, you walk in the place and you don't know anyone."

Thursday morning after a doctor appointment, she sat alone at a table in McDonald's.

"They talk about keeping it country," she said, quoting a campaign slogan once used by Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "Well, we're not country anymore. It's suburban."

The farmland where her late husband, Raymond, grew up is now part of Oakmont Green's golf course and luxury home development.

"All the good farm ground is up in houses," she said.

Pub Date: 9/26/99

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