Puppet Show in Hampstead

September 07, 1994

The charade that took place at a recent meeting of the planning commission in Hampstead is a clear indication of the disproportionate say developers have in government decisions in the county.

Beset with an inadequate supply of water, overcrowded schools and congested roads, Hampstead's town council, by a 4-1 vote, approved a letter asking the planning commission to impose a 90-day building moratorium. The temporary freeze would allow the council time to study whether adequate infrastructure exists to support the residential development now wending its way through the permit process.

The halt would have had an immediate impact on Martin K.P. Hill, the developer of North Carroll Farms, who wants to build another 220 homes. Mr. Hill pulled out all the stops to ensure that this temporary restriction was not even discussed, let alone approved.

Though there was more than ample time to do so, councilman and planning commission chairman Art Moler neglected to place the moratorium request on the commission agenda. It's worth noting he cast the only dissenting vote against it in the council. Mr. Moler's inaction thus thwarted the will of the council's majority. (The conflict of interest inherent in a councilman sitting on the planning commission was also laid bare by this charade.)

When planning commission member Chris Nevin attempted to place the matter on the agenda, he could not garner the necessary support. With Mr. Hill acting as an off-stage prompter citing various rules of order, the commission delayed all public discussion of the moratorium until after the meeting was over.

If the planning commission is to fulfill its duty to maintain the quality of life in Hampstead, its members should have allowed a discussion of the matter. While the town does not control school or road construction -- the county does -- its residents have to live with the consequences of inadequate infrastructure. To put off their comments until the end of the official meeting was an insult.

Town residents have as much right to control their destiny as do developers. A vigorous public debate over the town's rate of growth should have been encouraged. We hope that next time the Hampstead Planning Commission avails itself of the opportunity for an open discussion instead of subverting it.

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