Hampstead officials ponder business park moratorium


Feeling stung and shut out by the county's economic development efforts on the outskirts of town, Hampstead leaders are considering slapping a moratorium on the planned North Carroll Business Park.

The move could complicate the county's plans to develop the parcel, and steer away one of the most interested potential buyers: the U.S. Postal Service.

Councilman Stephen Holland, the most enthusiastic supporter of a moratorium, said it would send a message to the county, and serve to warn the post office that the site might not be a wise choice.

"It's my understanding it's never been their No. 1 site," Holland said. "They're being directed by the county [to buy it] so they can get somebody in there and kick up some dirt."

Mayor Christopher M. Nevin first brought up the moratorium at the Town Council meeting Tuesday night, saying the town should not allow building there until the state-funded study of the nearby bog turtle habitat is complete in one year.

But Holland said it would also serve to check the county, which he believed was working too aggressively to get the business park started. While the moratorium vote is slated for next month, Holland said he was ready to vote Tuesday night.

"You're just giving someone 30 days to do something stupid, and our county is quite capable of doing something stupid," he said.

Holland and other town officials have complained recently about being left out of the county's negotiations with Sweetheart Cup Co., which is expected to open a 1-million-square-foot distribution center off Houcksville Road on the north end of the Black & Decker Corp. campus. He said the town also was left out of the process of locating a Wal-Mart and Burger King north of town.

The location of a new post office has been a lightning rod. Most town officials had hoped it could go in the old Hampstead Elementary School on Main Street.

But Jack Lyburn, the county's director of economic development, said yesterday a moratorium would make no difference to him. The county plans not to move on North Carroll Business Park until the state completes the bog turtle study.

Holland said Lyburn had steered the Postal Service from the school to encourage it to break ground at the business park.

Lyburn said he presented all possible sites to the Postal Service. Last month, postal officials listed several reasons why the school site would not work.

The industrially zoned land for North Carroll Business Park on Route 482 is within town limits, but owned by the Industrial Development Authority, a quasi-public body that receives about $1 million a year from the county to boost economic development. A large for-sale sign sits on the property on Route 482 across from North Carroll High School.

It is one of two sites being considered by the Postal Service for a new Hampstead post office.

John Turpin, a real estate specialist for the Postal Service, declined to comment yesterday because he had not heard from the town.

Last month, Turpin said the Postal Service was aware of the bog turtle study, and that it could cause that site to be ruled out. But because of its proximity to the current post office and the willingness of the county and development authority to sell it, the site was a strong contender.

A moratorium could give more leverage to the other site the post office is considering, at Black Rock and Lower Beckleysville roads.

That is the one the Town Council, mayor and business leaders prefer because it is closer to the town's residential development and could boost a struggling shopping center across the street. The intersection is also considered an eastern gate into the town. Commuters to Hunt Valley and Interstate 83 take those roads.

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