Town braces for big changes

Distribution center, discount store to add to Hampstead crush

September 26, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Two boxes will arrive at Hampstead's door next year: One is called Wal-Mart; the other, Sweetheart Cup Co.

When the boxes are opened, cars and trucks will stream out and come back in, sometimes as many as 623 more per hour than usual along congested Route 30.

Residents fear not so much that things in Hampstead will change, but that they will get worse.

The owners of Bob's Variety Store worry that the increased traffic will go beyond the rush-hour crawl that already keeps patrons from their doors.

Margaret Grimes worries that it will be harder for her brothers to move their farm equipment through town and that local businesses might die, leaving vacant storefronts.

Herbert Hewlett of Hampshire Road wonders how much longer he will have to wait to get out onto Route 30 when the additional 80 to 125 tractor-trailers a day roll out of the Sweetheart Cup distribution center.

And Stephen Brezler doesn't think he'll ever be able to trust his public officials again, after they kept the Sweetheart Cup deal secret until it was irrevocable.

Brezler will have a vivid reminder every day: From his two-story house on Houcksville Road, he will look directly across the street at the largest building in the state after the 1 million-square-foot Sweetheart Cup warehouse is built.

"It makes you suspicious if you're not told about projects that affect your neighborhood," Brezler said. "I wonder what else I'm not being apprised of."

Brezler said he and his neighbors support economic development and knew the land across was zoned industrial. But they resent not having some say -- not once being approached by either the county or the developer of the land where Sweetheart will build.

"Most people understand these things," Brezler said of the county's need to work quietly when first trying to lure an industry. "But at the point where the developer says OK, the county has to say, `We have an obligation to take this to the public.' "

Trapped by traffic

Between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., as many as 950 cars per hour drive north on Route 30 -- Hampstead's Main Street -- past Bob's Variety Store as commuters make their way home. But hardly anyone comes into the family-owned business. If cars pull over to park, they'll have a difficult time getting back into the stream of traffic.

"We don't mind competition," said owner Bob Klingenberg. "But it has to be on fair ground."

The general stock in Bob's is the kind of thing that Wal-Mart and other discount stores have taken over across the nation: toys for last-minute stops before a child's birthday party; socks, underwear and sweat shirts; school supplies; sewing notions; a large crafts section with a rainbow of felt and ribbons.

He and his wife Sue have owned the store for 40 years. They say they've been through competition before with big discount stores -- an Ames was once where the Wal-Mart will be -- and that was when there were fewer people in town to spend money.

But they are disappointed that the county is allowing such obviously high-traffic businesses as Wal-Mart and Burger King to come in before the Hampstead bypass is built to ease Route 30 traffic.

If traffic gets worse on Route 30, they say, it will be harder for customers to get into the store. If Hampstead follows state recommendations to take away the parking spaces on the street in front of Bob's to create turning lanes onto Gill Avenue, Klingenberg says, he might as well close his doors.

The town is leaning against removing the parking spaces, but Klingenberg says he wishes all the traffic solutions had been ironed out before the county allowed Wal-Mart to start building.

"I just think it's too soon," he said.

Bypass on hold

The Hampstead bypass is on hold while biologists study a population of bog turtles, a federally protected species, living in the path of the proposed bypass.

Inside the Klingenbergs' store, formerly a movie theater, a customer can imagine that the Hampstead just outside the door is still as it was three decades ago: one lot deep on each side of Route 30 and less than a mile long. It was a little sister to Westminster and a country cousin to Baltimore.

Then the houses started going up. People from Baltimore and Washington moved to developments such as North Carroll Farms and Robert's Field that balloon out from the downtown. The population is 4,419 and growing: another 500 homes are under construction, or soon to be started.

Hampstead residents and town officials have expressed concern about the traffic Sweetheart Cup could add to Route 30, with 80 to 125 tractor-trailers a day expected to come in and leave the plant. But the Sweetheart truck traffic pales in comparison to what the new Wal-Mart and Burger King are expected to generate.

According to a study by The Traffic Group, a Towson firm hired by The Cordish Co., developers of North Carroll Shopping Center, the new stores would generate as many as 623 additional car trips in and out of the center in one hour.

Changing way of life

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