Hampstead's Water Troubles May Slow Tide Of Growth

Increasing Demand Has Residents Worried Private Wells May Go Dry

September 12, 1990|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

HAMPSTEAD - It's midday on Main Street, yet no one strolls the sidewalks along this town's stretch of an increasingly busy Route 30.

As car after car whizzes by the War Memorial, no one but a clerk goes in and out of Bob's Variety Store across the street.

Life seems slow now -- no hustle and bustle, just your everyday small, rural town.

But looming less than a mile in any direction from the War Memorial and Bob's Variety Store are signs that Hampstead is not going to remain small and rural for much longer.

"Development is going to happen, growth is going to take place," said David R. Bortell, a 77-year-old St. Paul Street resident who has lived in the town for 23 years.

Development is going to happen, and, for people like Bortell, signs of its approach are everywhere.

Just last week, the town's application to pump triple the amount of water out of the ground was the subject of a public hearing conducted by the Maryland Water Administration.

Bortell, along with about 44 others, was there, anxious about what would happen if that much more water were pumped from an underground supply that also serves hundreds of private wells.

The town's need for more water -- about 473,000 gallons a day -- is the latest sign of the suburbanization of Hampstead.

On the surface -- along tree-lined Carroll Avenue or amid the rolling farmland off Houcksville Road -- a future as a Baltimore bedroom community seems far off.

But the numbers tell a different story -- the need for more water as well as more classrooms, more sewage treatment, more roads and more town services.

Since 1980, when only one new house was built, Hampstead has more than doubled in size and population. Since 1988, the town's assessable tax base jumped 51 percent, from $20.9 million to $31.8 million. And by the end of the decade, the number of homes and the number of people are expected to double again.

To cope with that growth, the town in large measure is relying on the help of the county's planning staff, its own planning staff and the largess of the state government.

It's also relying on being able to supply drinking water to the 819 new homes already approved by the town.

In fact, the town has already drilled 15 new wells that will eventually increase the town's water supply from 165,000 gallons a day to 465,000 gallons a day.

Should the state's water administration approve the town's application to use those wells -- and indicators point that way -- Hampstead shouldn't have a problem for at least the next 12 years.

Should the state turn the application down, however, it would be turning down any more new development.

"If that happens, it's simple," said John A. Riley, Hampstead's manager. "We just shut down development. All of that new water has already been allocated. And if we don't have it, we don't grow."

So far, development has done anything but shut down.

As of Monday, Hampstead has approved 155 new residential building permits, has approved five major new housing developments, is building an additional elementary school, is treating more than 300,000 gallons of sewage a day and is awaiting the construction of a Main Street bypass.

But all of that growth can be disconcerting, as turnout at last Thursday's water hearing demonstrated.

"There were two subjects of concern," said Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, a Hampstead resident for all of his 63 years. "Do we have enough water to sustain growth and still issue all of these building permits? And will people's wells run dry?"

Matthews, who attended the meeting, said that Hampstead has undergone an enormous transformation over the years, a transformation that has relied on careful planning.

That planning, however, must make it off the drawing boards and into the streets.

"If just one thing doesn't happen like it's planned," he said, "then Hampstead will be gridlocked, snarled in its own growth."

Some long-time residents already find it a bit too snarled.

"The thought that I might run out of water frightens me," said Arthur C. Nash, a 67-year-old who has lived on Upper Beckleysville Road for 45 years. "When you take water out of the ground, it's like a barrel of apples. You keep eating them, and pretty soon you don't have any apples left."

So far, engineering studies say that Hampstead has the ability to buy more than enough new apples -- new roads, new water supplies, new schools and so on -- to handle the next wave of growth.

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