Council grants Hill building permits But deal creates rift among members

November 14, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Hampstead Town Council's approval of a controversial agreement that allows developer Martin K. P. Hill to proceed with his North Carroll Farms IV subdivision has created a deep rift among council members who until now had displayed unanimity in their actions.

After hours of heated debate spanning three public meetings, the council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to grant 49 building permits to Hill, in exchange for infrastructure improvements in the development and a donation of land for open space.

Councilmen Lawrence H. Hentz, David E. Bredenburg and Seth Shipley voted in favor of the agreement, and Councilmen Wayne H. Thomas and Stephen A. Holland voted against it.

"I'm extremely disappointed that we've taken this direction and I think we have set a precedent for developers in the future to come in and get around the issues," Holland said yesterday. "I have a serious concern that we're opening a Pandora's box for other developers."

The agreement is an attempt to settle disputes that have delayed work on the planned 220-unit North Carroll Farms IV project for more than a year. Hill's construction plans were derailed last November when the town revoked 49 of his building permits, citing violations relating to the development's public works systems.

Under the settlement, the Town Council will recommend that Hampstead's zoning administrator grant Hill two building permits for model homes upon execution of the agreement.

Upon completion of work addressing public works issues, the council will recommend issuing the remaining building permits.

Hill said yesterday he hopes to have the first two building permits within a week.

"It's an agreement that shows compromise and a sincere interest in providing what is best for the town," he said.

Mayor Christopher M. Nevin said yesterday that despite the differences of opinion among council members, he is hopeful that they will be able to continue to work together effectively.

"It's a highly emotional issue; we'll see how it plays out over time," said Nevin, who, with Hentz, negotiated the agreement with Hill during meetings over the past several months.

"If we're looking out for the best interests of Hampstead, there's a lot more areas where we agree than disagree."

Shipley and Bredenburg said they also are convinced that the council will be able to move beyond the bitter feelings of the pTC moment.

"This issue is not going to detract from us working together and doing what's right for Hampstead," Bredenburg said.

Holland is not as optimistic about the council's ability to restore its working relationship, given the divisive nature of the discussions surrounding the agreement with Hill.

"Mr. Thomas and Mr. Hentz were going at it [at Tuesday's meeting] and the mayor doesn't show Mr. Thomas a whole lot of respect," Holland said. "I've been alienated by some members of the council to the point where some do not say hello to me anymore. I'm on the outside looking in, and I think it's a shame that it's gotten personal.

"Anything coming before us now will be on a more personal and emotional level," he said.

Nevin, who was elected in May 1995 on a slow-growth platform with Holland, Hentz and Thomas, said Tuesday that the agreement marked "the first instance where there's been a disagreement between us up here as to what is in the best interest of the town."

Nevin and Hentz have maintained that the agreement will ensure that Hill takes steps to correct problems with storm-water management and water quality and spare the town the possibility of a protracted legal battle with the developer.

That argument led to a heated exchange Tuesday night between Hentz and Thomas, who questioned Hentz's assertion that the agreement requires Hill to make $200,000 worth of infrastructure improvements in the North Carroll Farms IV development.

"I'm not going to explain myself, Wayne. You won't listen to anything I say. You question my integrity," Hentz said.

Throughout the council debates over the agreement, Thomas and Holland have argued that Hampstead would gain very little from the settlement and that it violates town zoning laws governing open space.

The councilmen have said that Hill should modify his North Carroll Farms IV site plan -- which received final approval from Hampstead's Planning and Zoning Commission in August 1994 -- and bring it before the current commission for review.

"The Town Council, if it approves this agreement, will be entering into a contract to circumvent its own zoning laws," Thomas said Tuesday.

Holland repeatedly has expressed concerns about how the agreement will affect a pending court case -- before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals -- challenging the town's approval of the subdivision.

The suit, brought by Holland and three other residents in 1995, claims that the development would strain local roads and schools.

The appellants have said that granting building permits to Hill before the resolution of the lawsuit would give him the opportunity to complete enough construction to become "vested" in the development -- the point at which he cannot legally be required to dismantle houses already built.

Once Hill begins home construction, the appellants say their legal position will be weakened significantly.

"What can you do once you've agreed away the whole process?" Holland asked.

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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