Church opposes brewery nearby Mayor seeks to drop distance restrictions between buildings

March 26, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

The Rev. John R. Scamehorn is all for economic development in Hampstead. But he draws the line at microbreweries next door to his Main Street church, St. John's United Methodist.

Scamehorn's concern stems from a request by Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin that a provision limiting the distance between microbreweries and churches be dropped from a locally sponsored bill before the General Assembly.

Nevin said the restrictions -- which require that microbreweries be more than 300 feet from places of worship -- would hinder Hampstead's downtown revitalization efforts.

In a letter to Sen. Larry E. Haines, chairman of the Carroll County delegation, Nevin pointed out that the old Hampstead Elementary School on Main Street -- a key downtown property -- could not be developed as a microbrewery under the proposal because of its proximity to St. John's United Methodist Church.

"The proper use and rehabilitation of the building, which includes the potential for a microbrewery, would generate the additional pedestrian traffic needed to support our town businesses," Nevin wrote.

The mayor said there is no particular microbrewery project under consideration for the old elementary school. However, he wants the town to have the flexibility to weigh all options for the best use of the building.

Scamehorn says that taverns and churches don't make good neighbors and that a microbrewery would not attract the type of pedestrian traffic that Hampstead needs.

"One of our purposes is to eliminate the abuse of beverage alcohol," he said. "The town does not need people who have been drinking walking up and down Main Street to add to the confusion and congestion."

Nevin argues that churches and a variety of businesses, including restaurants with liquor licenses and a bar, have shared Hampstead's Main Street for years. He said a microbrewery would draw a more "upscale" clientele.

"To my knowledge, these varying property types have coexisted for years without complaint or to the detriment of the churches," Nevin wrote in his letter to Haines.

The legislation at issue, backed by the Board of County Commissioners and the county liquor board, would allow microbrewery licenses to be granted throughout the county. In 1994, the General Assembly approved a bill that limited microbreweries to the Mount Airy election district, specifically to accommodate the Mount Airy Brewing Co. and Firehouse.

Since then, investment groups have expressed interest in locating a microbrewery in downtown Westminster.

At Haines' suggestion, the delegation approved an amendment to the proposed microbrewery law requiring that the establishments be 300 feet or more from the property lines of schools or places of worship. Westminster officials had asked that the distance limits be reduced to 100 feet, but the Carroll delegation voted against the change.

The bill has passed the state Senate and is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow before the House Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Haines said yesterday that he has no plans to amend it. He said the distance restriction would not thwart economic development efforts in Hampstead's Main Street area.

"There's plenty of locations which would be much better than having it [a microbrewery] near a church or school," Haines said.

Last month, the Hampstead Town Council approved a $40,000 contract with a Towson consulting firm to develop a downtown revitalization plan. Deteriorating curbs and sidewalks, the absence of pedestrian crossings, lack of parking and insufficient landscaping are some of the problems in the Main Street area.

The old Hampstead Elementary School sits in the heart of town, and local officials expect that the county school board will soon identify the building as surplus property. When that happens, it would be a prime site for downtown development.

Nevin said a microbrewery might fit in with Hampstead's revitalization efforts.

"I think it has its advantages," he said. "I think it would be a fine use, given what's there already."

Pub Date: 3/26/97

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