Talk of Wal-Mart plan sparks town meeting

August 05, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The president of Hampstead Business Association hopes for a healthy turnout tonight at its meeting to discuss the possible location of a "big-box store" north of town.

"The rumor is that Wal-Mart is coming to the North Carroll Shopping Center," said Kathy Rampolla, president of the 160-member business association.

The informational meeting at 7 p.m. at Hampstead Town Hall will include merchants, residents, officials from Carroll County and the towns of Manchester and Hampstead, and local members of the General Assembly, said Rampolla, of J & K Graphics & Printing.

While her business probably would not be harmed by a Wal-Mart on Route 30 between Hampstead and Manchester, she said, "A lot of businesses downtown would be affected by a store of that magnitude. We also have been working on a revitalization plan for downtown."

Hampstead officials have talked of creating a shopping center in an old elementary school and other small-scale enhancements that could be wiped out by a giant discount store. On the other hand, Rampolla noted, merchants in North Carroll Shopping Center would benefit from such a draw.

"But I think it would have a larger impact on the economy of Hampstead. It would hurt a lot of businesses overall: hardware stores, drugstores, the variety store, the jewelers, the sporting goods stores, gift stores," she said.

"If people shop at a store that has everything, they won't be as likely to shop downtown. It's difficult to compete with their prices."

At Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., a spokeswoman confirmed the company is looking at the Hampstead area.

"We are interested in that market," said Daphne Davis, community affairs director in the company's real estate division. "However, at this time we don't have any definite plans to announce."

Reacting to the reports, Hampstead Town Manager Neil Ridgely raised concerns about possible detrimental effects of a Wal-Mart on downtown merchants and on the town's water supply if the development outside the town draws from an underground source. Fluids from a former dry-cleaning business remain in the soil at the site.

"There's also the traffic issue," Rampolla said. "Route 30 does have a lot of traffic already."

H. M. Mall Associates Limited Partnership of Baltimore had unsuccessfully petitioned the county planning commission in June to rezone the entire property for business use. About one-third is zoned for low-density residential development.

Also in June, Ridgely and other representatives of both towns met with county planners and State Highway Administration officials to voice their concerns about the status of bypass projects for Route 30 north, which they said are needed to get traffic off their Main streets.

That meeting also arose from the developer's plans to build a large retail store at North Carroll Shopping Center -- and fears that such a project could block a bypass project for Manchester. The Hampstead bypass is moving into the land-acquisition phase, but nothing has even been approved for Manchester.

Because Hampstead has begun developing a master plan and a Main Street revitalization project, they suggested putting plans for the shopping center on hold during the process.

But Richard L. Hull, president of Carroll Land Services Inc. and a representative of the developer, objected at the time to what he said would be a two-year delay.

Yesterday, Hull, site engineer for the project, said: "As far as we know, we're moving forward with the store we can build -- without asking anybody for anything."

Two-thirds of the 11.6-acre parcel has the necessary zoning, he said. The entire parcel lies outside both town boundaries and does not require their approval.

Hull would not confirm that a Wal-Mart will rise there, but said the project will be a smaller version of the developer's plans as outlined in the rezoning petition, which would have razed the south building of the shopping center and built a 120,000-square-foot store at the rear of the parcel.

Hull questioned why objections would be raised to "an $8- to $10-million increase in the taxable commercial base."

Pub Date: 8/05/98

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