Council delays vote on plan for downtown

Residents, businesses like the concept but question the details

February 09, 2000|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The vision of a vibrant, small-town Main Street with boutiques blending in with Victorian-era homes and pedestrian-friendly streets and sidewalks appealed to everyone who spoke at the public hearing last night for Hampstead's proposed revitalization of Main Street.

But some aspects of the idea led some residents and business owners to question whether the plan will support that vision. At their urging, the council delayed a vote on the plan until next month.

For example, extending the core business zone to be 1.5 miles long could discourage pedestrian traffic, said Dennis Wertz, chairman of the town's planning and zoning commission.

"Don't over-zone Main Street," Wertz said. "If you over-zone, what you're going to end up with is a lot of marginal businesses."

The plan is a vision statement for a thriving downtown business-residential district in the heart of Hampstead, allowing four types of business zones, said Town Manager Kenneth Decker.

The most liberal zones at the north and south ends of town could allow an auto shop or a chain doughnut franchise. The most restrictive zones, in the residential areas, would limit new businesses to things such as boutiques that sell potpourri or candles, day spas and others that would maintain the street's aesthetics.

"We'd like it to be scaled to people" rather than cars and trucks, Decker said.

"Right now, our Main Street is on loan to the state of Pennsylvania to facilitate traffic," Decker said.

Studies have found that hundreds of cars from Pennsylvania travel on Route 30 through Manchester and Hampstead each day on their way to Hunt Valley, Baltimore and other work destinations.

Although the state has approved building a bypass for Route 30, construction is held up until at least October, when a study of the endangered and federally protected bog turtles in the area is complete.

"What the plan presumes is that we get our Main Street back and the bypass takes away most of the traffic," Decker said.

Zoning changes in the plan would have to be carried out separately, with additional public hearings specific to each change, Decker said. The plan is just the framework, he said.

In other business, the council passed an ordinance to increase late fees for most water customers to a minimum of $20. A public hearing on the change drew no objections last month.

The penalty for an overdue bill had been 10 percent of the bill. But the median bill is $28, and a late fee of $2.80 was not covering the costs of having a town employee follow up on the late bills for payment.

The town had a high proportion of late payments, with 22 percent of 1,800 residential and business water users paying after the 30-day grace period, Decker said.

The new late fee will be 10 percent or $20, whichever is larger. Decker said small bills take just as much time to process and follow up on as large bills.

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