Water plan taps anger Residents oppose tower, contend it will be an eyesore

October 11, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

They don't need the water; they can't use the water -- and a small band of residents who live outside Hampstead don't want the town's planned half-million-gallon water tank blocking their view of the North Carroll Community Pond and the open field of North Carroll Middle School.

For some 40 years, their homes along Hanover Pike have overlooked open space, and they expected that they always would after the park and school were built.

Until last month.

The small group went to what was billed as a public hearing Sept. 9 to learn that town officials had already decided to place the water tower at the school entrance -- "a done deal," the residents called it in letters and a petition.

Such a structure will be an eyesore, said Mildred Ecker, 70, a retired mathematics teacher and one of several longtime residents who are working to reverse the town's decision. The group has collected more than 30 signatures from people living near the school. Only one immediate neighbor, who declined to discuss the tower, has refused to sign their petition.

"Every time I come down this driveway, I visualize what this thing's going to look like in front of me," she said at a recent gathering with her neighbors. "It's a shame to ruin this area."

The neighbors would have to become part of Hampstead through annexation to use the water that will be sitting right in front of them, but they said their wells work just fine.

The water tower will be "three silos high and two silos wide," figured her husband, Mildren Ecker, 73 and retired from the farm-supply business.

They don't know the exact dimensions because Hampstead Town Manager Neil Ridgely refused to provide the numbers, saying the town feared terrorists, the residents said.

Ridgely said he did cite security concerns but was talking about vandals, not terrorists.

The lack of information is one of their chief complaints, said the Eckers and their neighbors Kenneth and Ruby Bull and Elaine Leese, who have been gathering signatures on petitions to the town and the county school board.

Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin defended the town's decision. He plans to meet with the residents to explain.

Notices about the Sept. 9 public hearing on the "North End Storage Tank" were run in newspapers, Ridgely noted, even though the town wasn't required to advertise.

"When it said the north end of Hampstead, we considered that the north end of town," said Leese, 68, a retired bookkeeper for Black & Decker.

The residents live three miles from the Hampstead town hall -- less than two miles from the center of Manchester, they noted.

The neighbors attended the hearing Sept. 9 to find their objections ignored.

"They didn't answer us," Mildren Ecker said. "They just sat there and looked at us."

The council didn't take a vote that night and no vote is planned, but the decision has been made, said the mayor and town manager. They don't expect any further action on the site, only on the design and construction contract.

In fact, the school board had already voted on Aug. 12 to deed 0.27 acres to the town for $1 for its water supply, according to its minutes. School officials hope to be able to hook up to public water in connection with planned renovations of the school in 2002.

The residents have written to express their objections to the mayor and to Carroll County's school board president, C. Scott Stone.

Nevin said he hadn't seen their letter yet, because he's "been otherwise occupied at work." But he said the location the town chose was the best of all the sites.

"Wherever you put a water tower, you're not going to make everyone happy," Nevin said. "It's unfortunate that the people across the street will have a water tower in front of them, but it's one of those scenarios that it's going to be tough on someone."

At the Sept. 9 public hearing, Councilman Lawrence H. Hentz Jr. outlined the pluses and minuses of six possible sites for the new tank before recommending the entrance to the school on Route 30. He noted the lower costs of using the school site, which would eliminate the need to buy land.

But the town has been offered another free site at the nearby North Carroll Plaza, which also would pay some of the construction costs, said a spokesman for the shopping center. The plaza's higher elevation could reduce the cost of a tower, he said.

The spokesman, Glenn L. Weinberg, said he made the offer to the mayor last week and found "more of a lack of interest, and I didn't understand the reason."

"It surprised me we weren't taken more seriously," said Weinberg, an attorney for H. M. Mall Associates Ltd. Partnership, an entity of The Cordish Co. of Baltimore. "I thought we made a better offer."

The partnership wants to rezone the entire 11.6-acre shopping-center property for business use. About one-third is now designated for low-density residential development. Rumors have been rampant for months that a Wal-Mart is coming there, but Weinberg said he could not confirm the plans.

The mayor said the shopping center would have to be annexed into the town to use its water, Weinberg said, but the developer is willing to do that only if the land is rezoned.

Nevin declined to comment specifically on the developer's offer, saying only, "We have identified a site that better suits our needs."

"This was not a decision made in any way in a cavalier manner," the mayor said. "It's a win-win situation for the school and the town."

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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