Election may gauge sentiment on growth

Schools, traffic, water are among key issues

May 10, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

The incumbents seeking re-election in Hampstead's municipal election tomorrow are eager to see whether voters endorse their controlled-growth efforts of the past four years.

A light turnout would mean voters are satisfied with the work of Mayor Christopher M. Nevin and Councilmen Lawrence H. Hentz and Stephen A. Holland, who are again running as a ticket in the bipartisan election.

A heavy turnout would likely indicate dissatisfaction with their efforts and favor political newcomers Steven Balaz, 33, Keith Heindel, 32, and Denise Justus, 42.

The three are challenging the two incumbents for two council seats.

Councilman Wayne H. Thomas is challenging Nevin in the mayoral race.

The candidates all favor downtown revitalization and want to address quality-of-life issues such as growth, crowded schools, traffic congestion and adequate facilities, especially quantity and quality of water.

Their campaigns have hinged mainly on door-to-door salesmanship as they promoted pet issues and pointed out negative aspects of opponents' stands.

Some critics have focused on Nevin, 40, a commercial real estate banker, and Thomas, 48, a computer systems specialist.

Nevin backers, for instance, have questioned whether Thomas lives within town limits, a requirement under the Hampstead code.

Thomas proponents have asked whether the mayor's banking job can create a conflict of interest because Martin K. P. Hill, the county's largest developer, does business with the mayor's employer.

Nevin addressed the issue in February, saying he has refrained from council discussions of town business involving the developer.

Thomas said last month that his legal residence has never changed. His work has taken him out of town a lot, he said, but he lives in a leased condominium in Hampstead Valley and soon will go to settlement on a larger condominium in the same neighborhood.

Thomas will retain his council seat if he loses the mayoral race.

Nevin, Hentz, 46, an engineer, and Holland, 39, a business owner, drew about 80 percent of the votes in 1995, but only about 30 percent of the nearly 1,800 registered voters cast ballots.

Some of the challengers supported the controlled-growth campaign of the mayor and the two councilmen in 1995, but Thomas said many Nevin supporters are asking why the town council holds so many closed meetings.

Nevin challenged voters to check council meeting minutes and said Thomas has proposed more closed sessions than anyone.

The town code allows closed meetings for specific reasons, including discussions of personnel issues and proposed business development.

Thomas, Justus and former town manager Neil Ridgely, who does not live in Hampstead, have been outspoken in their desire to keep the public informed, while Nevin has noted that discussion of potential business development is a legitimate and necessary reason to close meetings.

No secret agreements are being made behind closed doors, Nevin said.

There has been speculation that a closed meeting held by the council last month involved discussions of annexing a 100-acre site west of Route 30 and south of Houcksville Road. Most residents have known since last summer that a metro area business wants to place a large warehouse on the Houcksville Road site but needs annexation to guarantee access to town water.

Commercial development alarms those who fear more traffic congestion, more crowding in schools and the lack of an adequate water supply.

Hampstead's leaders have appeared divided the past 18 months on how problems should be solved, said Justus, who works in computer systems support, and Heindel, a surveyor's technician.

Town residents, including Thomas and Councilwoman Wendy Martin, have noted that Nevin, Hentz and Holland have appeared to change their handling of issues involving high-density development in Roberts Field and commercial development bordering the proposed town bypass during the past 18 months.

They noted, for example, that after spending $40,000 to $60,000 on legal expenses to stop Hill from building 90 condominiums in Roberts Field, the trio supported an out-of-court settlement that allows the developer to build 66 condominiums.

Holland, who helped broker the settlement, said it was simply a matter of settling rather than risking added legal expenses and ending up with 90 condominiums.

Crowded schools top Justus' concerns, and closed-door meetings are a close second.

"I'm worried about adequate facilities," Justus said. "They [Nevin, Hentz and Holland] want industrial development. They say they want adequate facilities, but I don't see them."

Justus said she voted for the three and now feels "like I was stabbed in the back."

"The mayor has a major influence on the council members," she said. "They have spent a lot of money, but water is less, roads are worse, and schools are just as crowded."

Nevin has countered that the council passed an adequate-facilities ordinance and approved higher impact fees to offset the cost of growth.

Heindel and Balaz, an engineer, echoed Justus' quality-of-life concerns.

Heindel, a lifelong town resident, also said more people need to participate, not just by voting, but by attending monthly council meetings.

"I'm just one piece of the puzzle," he said. "Together, mayor, council and town residents, we can find solutions, but everyone has to work at it."

The polls will be open for registered voters from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Hampstead fire station, 1341 N. Main St.

Pub Date: 5/10/99

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