Downtown will not get post office; Officials say plan to transform school would be difficult; Two sites considered; Land to be bought within year; facility could open in 2001


Hope that the new Hampstead post office would find a home in the old Hampstead Elementary School has been dashed, but postal officials said yesterday they would maintain a downtown presence after moving the main facility elsewhere.

The downtown presence would consist of space in an existing retail business, such as in Westminster, where the Giulianova Italian delicatessen has a counter where postal customers can mail packages and buy stamps.

U.S. Postal Service officials announced they have narrowed their search to two sites after meeting with county commissioners yesterday in a closed informational session.

Sites under consideration are the corner of Black Rock Road and Lower Beckleysville Road, across from a small, struggling shopping center, and the north side of Route 482, directly across from North Carroll High School.

Postal officials ruled out a tract in Greenmount, said John Turpin, real estate specialist for the Postal Service.

"We had a lot of concerns from the community that it was too far to the north, and we agree," Turpin said.

Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin said yesterday he was disappointed the school was not among the sites. He said Westminster and Sykesville also have lost their downtown post offices.

"[The Postal Service is] building brand-new, cookie-cutter buildings on the outskirts of towns and moving out of the town centers," he said.

"I think of the post office in a traditional downtown setting, where basically it serves as an anchor for your downtown," Nevin said. "It generates shopping downtown, it generates foot traffic. People go downtown to the post office and say, 'I have to stop in Bob's Variety Store and do something.' It's a shame we can't see eye to eye on the old school building."

Christian E. Cavey, president of the Hampstead Business Association, said the school site was his first choice, but the two sites under consideration are good second choices. Of those two sites, he said, he prefers the Black Rock Road property.

The post office could boost a small and perpetually struggling shopping center across the street, he said.

It could also lead to improvements to an awkwardly laid out and dangerous intersection by adding a second road. "It could be a very nice eastern gateway to our town," Cavey said.

School site difficult

Turpin said the school site would have been too difficult to develop into the 14,000-square-foot building the post office will need.

"We looked long and hard at the old school, and just determined it doesn't work," Turpin said.

Focus on two sites

The sites at Route 482 and on Black Rock Road are now the focus, he said.

Officials will determine which one to pursue after studying traffic, topography and other issues. Turpin said postal officials hope to close on the selected property within a year.

Choosing the Route 482 land would delay the project by about several months as researchers study the presence of the federally protected bog turtles along the proposed path of a bypass to Route 30.

The Route 482 land is owned by the county's Industrial Development Authority, a quasi-public body created by the commissioners to develop land for industrial use.

The property is being farmed, but plans are to turn the area into the North Carroll Business Park.

The land on Black Rock Road, just beyond Hampstead town limits, is privately owned, and the owner has offered to sell it, Turpin said.

Ample space

Turpin said the post office will need about 3 acres, although the Postal Service looks for land that will support any needed expansions for up to 20 years.

Irene Lericos, spokeswoman for the Postal Service, said the post office could be built by the summer of 2001.

It will have 14,000 square feet, compared with the existing building's 4,000 square feet, and 26 parking spaces vs. the current seven.

Adjusting to growth

Postmaster Thomas Bloomberg said downtown residents and business owners who now walk or drive to the post office to pick up mail will get delivery, perhaps at cluster boxes that hold several locked compartments.

With the town's population growing exponentially and approximately 500 houses going up, Bloomberg and his 20-person staff are running out of room.

Trucks have a hard time pulling onto Route 30 from Houck Avenue, which has no stoplight, and the increasing volume of mail is overtaking them.

"We won't have to climb over all the mail on Monday morning just to get in the door," he said.

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