Planned shopping plaza rocks Hampstead Opponents attack town's new rules NORTH--Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro

March 03, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

When free-market forces collide with government regulations, the shock waves can travel far.

They've been felt in Hampstead, where the proposed Oakmont Green shopping center has forced the town government to reconsider the role it plays in deciding how much retail space is desirable.

The planned shopping center would include a 42,716-square-foot grocery store and 13,800 square feet of additional retail space on the east side of Route 30 across from Brodbeck Road.

Opponents of the new shopping center say there is no need for more retail space in Hampstead, and it's the town's duty to prevent over-development.

Some town officials said they think the town shouldn't be in the business of deciding how much retail space is too much.

"Should the town get in the business of outlawing free enterprise?" asked Town Manager John Riley.

"Competition is good," said Hampstead Zoning Commission Chairman Arthur Moler.

But David Cordish, an opponent of Oakmont Green and one of the owners of North Carroll Plaza, a shopping center across Route 30 from the proposed development, said: "Zoning laws, by definition, are a restriction on free commerce."

Fears for plaza

North Carroll Plaza's manager, Glenn L. Weinberg, said the plaza was already losing one of its anchor stores, Ames, which is closing. He said North Carroll Plaza would be 80 percent vacant if Super Thrift makes good on its plan to move to the new Oakmont Green plaza.

Mr. Cordish said it was true Oakmont Green would cost him money. "I'm not happy about losing money. I'm very unhappy about losing money," he said.

But he said he was also bothered by the way Hampstead officials acted.

"It's the way they have gone about the zoning that I think is outrageous," he said.

"I've been in the business 25 years. I've never seen the likes of this particular process."

Until January, the Hampstead code said that in the case of planned business centers like the Oakmont Green shopping center, the planning commission had to ascertain there was a need for the center before granting approval, backed up with market studies and similar evidence.

But in January, the town changed its zoning code.

Zoning officials said that Oakmont Green's storm water management pond, about which questions had been raised, met the new code.

The council also removed the requirement that the Planning and Zoning Commission ascertain there is a "need" before approving a new business center.

Traffic considerations also have been removed from the section on planned business centers. Mr. Riley said the traffic clause was redundant.

Hampstead Mayor Clint Becker said all developments in the town, whether residential or commercial, have to meet adequate-facilities requirements, including traffic-capacity requirements.

Mr. Moler said that under the revised Hampstead law, the commission still has the power to investigate need and traffic issues if it chooses.

Mr. Moler said the commission probably would ask for a traffic study for any proposed business center. Whether the commission would ask for a study of need would depend, he said, on community reaction to the proposal under consideration.

North Carroll Plaza is not within Hampstead town limits. The proposed Oakmont Green shopping center would be within the town limits.

However, Mr. Moler said that was not a consideration on his part, and the point had not come up in discussions.

The need for the proposed center has been hotly debated.

Opponents of the Oakmont Green development submitted a market study last July that said there are vacancies in North Carroll Plaza and in the Roberts Field and Hampstead Village shopping centers.

Mr. Weinberg said: "How can anyone say there's the need for another shopping center?"

He questioned whether the town was acting in the public interest when it changed its laws in January.

Challenge considered

Mr. Cordish said: "It's obvious they did it for Oakmont."

He said that amounted to "spot legislation," the changing of laws to benefit particular individuals. He said his firm is considering mounting a legal challenge to the Hampstead code changes.

Mr. Weinberg said Friday a legal challenge was "imminent."

Town officials denied that they had changed the law simply to suit Oakmont Green developers.

Mr. Riley said the changes to the Hampstead code were general. They apply to all land in the town, he said, not just the Oakmont Green site.

He said the town changed its laws because the Oakmont Green case brought to light some problems in the Hampstead code. He said the laws would have been changed eventually even without Oakmont Green.

Attorney Richard C. Murray, of the firm Walsh & Fisher, which represents Hampstead, said he thought the changes to the town's laws were "entirely valid."

He said he would "have not the slightest problem" with representing the town to uphold the changes.

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