HAMPSTEAD -- Struggling shopkeepers are angry that the town might allow yet another retail center to be built while existing space remains vacant.
Several retailers attended the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting last week to protest the Oakmont commercial site, a shopping center planned for the north end of town on Route 30.
One entire shopping center sits empty on Black Rock Road. Several storefronts at the new Roberts Field have yet to attract their first tenants, and five or six have been abandoned at North Carroll Plaza.
North Carroll Plaza has the most to lose if the new center goes ahead, because its anchor, the Super Thrift grocery store, plans to move there.
"They keep on sticking these shopping centers in, and then they fight to keep people in them," said Alvin Long, owner of Long's Florists on Route 30.
Free enterprise, not town government, should regulate business, said Arthur H. Moler, councilman and chairman of the commission.
"Competition is the best thing for consumers that ever came down the road," Moler said.
Besides, he said, the commission can't deny a request on the basis of competition.
"That property is zoned exactly for what they plan to put in there," he said of the commercially zoned Oakmont area. "The law says if the zoning is proper, the individual has the right to come in and do what's right for that zoning."
"I'm not arguing the zoning," said Glenn Weinberg, manager of North Carroll Plaza and a lawyer with the owner, HM Mall Associates. "My issue comes from the Hampstead code, and it says [the planning commission] has to determine there's a need."
Weinberg agreed that his plaza has a vested interest in keeping Super Thrift from moving.
"We are talking to Super Thrift," he said. "We have a different battle with them, about a breach in their lease."
The commission's responsibility is to make sure developers follow guidelines and laws as they build, and to ensure that town roads, water, schools and other services won't be overwhelmed, Moler said.
Such issues prompted the commission to table approval for the Oakmont site plan until July 27.
Because of several technical questions by county and state agencies about storm water management, traffic, engineering and other issues, the commission asked the project's engineers to return next month.
Commission members also thought the sign slated for Route 30 was too large and could block drivers' views.
Scrivner Inc., the corporation that owns the Super Thrift, is hoping to relocate from North Carroll Plaza to the new center, said David Brumley, a senior vice president for the Oklahoma-based company.
However, he said no plans are definite for the relocation.
Super Thrift and Ames are the anchors for North Carroll Plaza, which is across Route 30 and just north of the Oakmont center's proposed site.
The Oakmont proposal is for the large grocery store plus two smaller stores. An adjacent parcel could also be developed later for two to four more stores, said Scott Fischer of the county Department of Planning.
Moler said he isn't surprised that the retailers are directing their anger at the commission members. At the meeting last Tuesday, one man accused them of corruption and had a few heated exchanges with them.