Battle over growth develops Hampstead: The fast-growing Carroll County town is engaged in legal skirmishes with developer Martin K. P Hill over controlling growth.

September 19, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

In Carroll County, the fight over growth is getting nastier by the day.

Last month, construction workers for millionaire developer Martin K. P. Hill, who since 1984 has built more than 1,000 homes in Hampstead -- a town that even after the building boom has a population of only 4,000 -- were threatened with arrest as they began work on new condominiums.

Hill countered with a $10 million lawsuit and got a court order allowing him to proceed.

The town's reply: Last weekend, the town manager issued a "stop work" order for a 90-unit condominium project.

Behind the spat is a growth rate that is among the fastest in the state. A Maryland Municipal League study released in the spring ranked Hampstead second among Maryland's 156 towns in the rate of growth of its assessable tax base over the last decade.

The skirmishing is nothing personal, say Hampstead's leaders, who were elected as a slow-growth slate in May 1995. After years of giving Hill carte blanche, they say, the town must get control of development that is overwhelming schools, roads and other public services.

"It's irresponsible for anyone to say we have anything personal against Mr. Hill. Our concerns are with any developer who's coming in and giving us something we feel is inadequate," Town Councilman Stephen A. Holland said.

Last month, for example, the town cashed the bond another developer had posted, accusing him of shoddy workmanship, and in July it forced a builder to agree to repair deteriorating streets.

"We're scrutinizing developments, where the past administration did nothing, zip, zero," Holland said.

Hill shrugs off the increasingly strained relationship, calling it the unavoidable result of sustained residential growth in an underdeveloped area. The pattern is well established, he said: Newcomers get involved in local politics to correct the mistakes of the town fathers who permitted uncontrolled growth in the first place.

"The new people move in and want to close the door behind them; this isn't unique to Hampstead or Carroll County," said Hill, 52, president of Masonry Contractors Inc., a Manchester-based homebuilder that reported more than $40 million in sales last year.

Hill said he doesn't think he is being treated more harshly than others trying to build in Hampstead. But, because he is the dominant developer, the attacks on him are more frequent and more public.

"No developer in Hampstead is getting a free ride," Hill said. "But I'm perceived to be the largest builder in the county, and I'm very visible. There are people who think I built every house in this county and am responsible for every growth-related issue in this county."

That could include most of the members of Hampstead's Town Council, who blame previous town leaders.

"They never said 'no' to the gentleman," Holland said. "He was like a kid in the candy store."

Hill maintains that previous Hampstead officials were committed to responsible development.

"Some of these [new] people seem to be suspect of what was allowed to take place prior to their moving here and becoming involved, that it was collusion and deal-making going on, and nothing could be further from the truth," he said.

Mayor Christopher M. Nevin, 38, a bank executive who moved to the town in 1989, said a widespread perception, shared by newcomers and longtime residents, is that little thought was given to the consequences of unbridled development.

New council members say they are trying to address the problems they inherited, passing legislation designed to check growth and aggressively lobbying the state and county to pay for road and school construction.

The council has presented Hill with a long list of reasons that he may not proceed with two projects approved by previous administrations, the 220 units of North Carroll Farms IV and the 90 units of Roberts Field condominiums.

Problems cited by Hampstead officials include too many homes, too little open space and a well with polluted drinking water.

North Carroll Farms has been the subject of a two-year legal battle initiated by Holland before he was elected to the Town Council. The suit -- which alleges that the previous Hampstead Planning Commission ignored adequate-facilities laws -- was dismissed by a local judge and is now before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

Battles over proposed storm water management ponds for the Roberts Field condominiums began as early as 1993, when current Councilman Wayne Thomas was president of the Fields Homeowners Association.

It was Hill's attempt to begin work on retention ponds for that project that led to the Aug. 27 showdown, which involved town police, the town manager, the current association president and Hill's construction workers.

"Not all of what we're doing with Marty [Hill] is confrontational," Nevin said. "We're sitting down and we're talking and trying to resolve the issues."

At times, Hill has outmaneuvered the town altogether.

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