HAMPSTEAD - If Carroll County's new housing market is languishing along with the rest of the economy, don't tell town planners here about it.
Less than a week ago, a 309-home development on 124 acres of prime farmland was presented to the town Planning and Zoning Commission for review. The proposal is just the latest large-scale housing project in a town trying to accommodate plans for at least 300 other new homes.
Growth is nothing new to Hampstead or anywhere else in Carroll. But coupled with other projects in the planning pipeline, this latest proposal -- made by Montgomery County businessman Claude B. Widerman -- could mean that the town could double its population for a second straight decade.
From 1980 to 1990, the population here increased from about 1,200 to 2,470.
And it could mean the town is bucking a countywide slowdown in new housing projects.
Last week's proposal did not take planners by surprise. Widerman's property was annexed into town in August. Like with other housing projects, Hampstead officials knew that when Widerman approached them about annexation, a new development would not be far behind.
"Annexation is the way to go," said Town Manager John A. Riley when Widerman first approached the town. "We need development to keep paying for services."
Widerman has leased the property to tenant farmers for the 25 years he has owned it.
It is the 16th land parcel in 23 years to go through Hampstead's annexation process and the fourth annexation in less than a year.
In the quarter-century that Widerman has owned the farm, Hampstead has grown from 111.5 acres to occupying more than 1,400 acres.
Widerman's project is the type that has played well here in the past.
Like the 800-unit Roberts Field development, this one would contain a mix of housing styles: 135 single-family homes, 78 duplexes and 96 condominiums.
It would bring with it a daily infusion of 217,000 gallons of new drinking water, a 30-acre elementary school site and access to the much-delayed Route 30 bypass.
And the project also would increase the stock of moderately priced housing in a county where housing prices have more than tripled in the last 20 years.
"It's a smaller-lot, more urban type of development," said Jim Shissler, a project engineer with the Westminster office of Kidde Consultants. "These are primarily going to be starter homes, homes people with moderate incomes can afford."
The Widerman tract lies in area town planners consider ripe for development. Bounded by Shiloh and Houcksville roads, it is near two other proposed housing projects.
Shiloh Run, just north of the Widerman property, is a 96-unit project that received preliminary approval from the planning commission in November. And the recently annexed Corbin and Michael property near Gill Avenue could bring another 90-units into the area.
While Riley and planners generally cast a favorable eye on development, the western part of town could become crowded should the bypass not be built and other area roads not get widened.
"There are a lot of options with how we'll work this out with the town," said John T. Maguire II, a Westminster attorney representing Widerman and an adjacent property owner. "We want to see what can be done about the bypass and the roads, and with the sewer and the water. A whole lot of things can be done."
Congestion on area roadways has been a major concern of the town planning commission, and is one of the reasons Widerman's concept plan was not given approval last week. The commission also wants the county to review the plan before taking any action.
To a lesser extent, sewage and water also are a concern. However, Hampstead's sewage treatment plant, which has a capacity to treat 900,000 gallons of sewage a day, is treating less than half that right now. And concerns over water are somewhat alleviated, town officials say, by the two wells on the Widerman property.