State and local officials are optimistic that an environmental review conducted over the past two days could lead to resolving conflicts in Hampstead between development and nature.
The Community Environmental Review, done at the request of Hampstead officials, brought a team of regional experts to town Friday to study key issues -- chiefly, development of a large industrial park at the north end of town and revitalization of the downtown business district.
Town officials expect to receive a comprehensive report of the environmental review in several weeks.
They expect the report to include specific recommendations for achieving the town's goals -- and for satisfying the goals of the review co-sponsors: Center for Chesapeake Communities, Department of Natural Resources, Chesapeake Bay Program and the Chesapeake Bay Local Government Advisory Committee.
Ways to co-exist
All of those groups are committed to protecting the bay and assisting small towns in finding ways to enable development and nature to co-exist.
Dennis Wertz, chairman of Hampstead's planning and zoning commission, led Friday's tour. The review team's agenda included a brief overview on the federally endangered bog turtle by Scott Smith of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
An estimated one-third of all bog turtles, which are found from Massachusetts south to Georgia, live in the marshy habitats of Carroll, Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties.
Turtles prompt delay
The discovery of turtles living along the proposed route of the Hampstead bypass, which cuts through the 400 acres designated for the industrial park, has delayed both projects.
Since about 80 percent of the proposed bypass is expected to be paid for using federal funds, compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act will be essential to obtain permits for development and construction.
William L. Branch, environmental analyst for the State Highway Administration, said he was optimistic that a cooperative effort between developers, environmentalists and federal, state and local agencies would produce a plan to reach Hampstead's goals.
Wertz listed those goals as conserving residential growth, the revitalizing of Main Street and developing smart industrial and commercial growth.
Wertz noted that while most town residents and merchants favor the six-mile bypass to alleviate traffic -- an estimated 16,000 vehicles travel along Route 30, the town's Main Street, daily -- some fear a bypass might hurt downtown businesses along 1 1/2 miles of Main Street.
Yesterday's agenda included workshops on innovative design techniques and strategies for revitalizing the downtown business district, including financing options, design guidelines and ordinance reviews. Public comment was welcomed during the sessions.