Last week, Sweetheart Cup Co. drew 200 people to a ribbon-cutting ceremony officially opening its 1 million-square-foot distribution center adjacent to Hampstead. Carroll commissioners lauded the company's arrival as a boon to the county's economic development.
No Hampstead officials attended. They're not so happy with their huge new neighbor.
"Sweetheart Cup is not widely considered as the best thing that ever happened to Hampstead," said Kenneth Decker, town manager.
The town is upset by an additional 125 trucks a day on Route 30, its major artery; a berm the contractor built atop a municipal water main; and plans to place a 12,000-gallon diesel-fuel tank near the huge building.
"The town takes all the burden from this project and gets no benefit," Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin said of the building just over the town's southern boundary. "The county's economic development department bent over backward to get this company here and got no public improvements for local infrastructure. They sold us out."
But the county involved the town in negotiations, said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier. The reason Hampstead officials are upset, she said, is because the town lost out on tax revenues when the company found it did not need to be annexed into the town to receive water and sewage service.
"The town missed out on annexation and those tax dollars," Frazier said. "That's when the sourness started. The rest is nitpicking."
She said claims by Hampstead officials that they were left out of the decision-making involving Sweetheart Cup are not true.
The county will get about $260,000 annually in property taxes from the company. Some of that revenue will be funneled to the town but not enough to fix traffic problems that will be created on Route 30, a congested highway that serves as Hampstead's Main Street, said Nevin.
The town has two more problems with the company. Sweetheart's construction contractor erected, fenced and landscaped a berm above a major water main for this town of 4,500, which makes reaching the water pipes more difficult. And tomorrow, the company will go before the county Board of Zoning Appeals to ask for a 12,000-gallon diesel-fuel tank at the site.
"It is these piecemeal approvals that really bother us," Nevin said. "Certainly they knew when they built this that they would want a gas depot. We are concerned about noise, fumes, possible spillage and contamination. And this berm means problems for us, if there is ever a water leak. We will have to dig a lot deeper, remove a fence and trees."
'Path of least resistance'
The company met with town officials once several months before construction but "after that meeting we were never brought into the loop," Nevin said. "They viewed the county as the path of least resistance."
Differences ensued over utilities, traffic, aesthetics, lighting and landscaping, as Hampstead officials followed county law that gives them the right to review and comment on plans for projects that are within a mile of their borders - to no avail, Nevin said.
Land for a Route 30 bypass should have figured into negotiations for the site, Nevin said. Both the county and the town have pushed for a bypass, which has been planned for more than 20 years.
The company could have helped by donating 10 acres to the bypass construction, Nevin said.
"Our area does not have the roads to even come close to handling this volume of traffic," Nevin said. "The bypass land should have been donated. That would be a standard requirement in any other county in this state."
But Sweetheart is leasing the site from a New York developer and is in no position to donate land, company officials said. And Frazier said land for a bypass figured into discussions with Sweetheart.
"Once the bypass alignment is certain, the company has pledged to us that they will give the land for the road," she said. "It is not on paper, but I believe they will. The bypass will help them and traffic circulation as a whole."
Annexation, not roads, dominated the initial discussion with the town, said Thomas Pasqualini, Sweetheart's vice president for logistics.
The site had water and sewer available on-site and from the county so the company had no interest in paying the additional property taxes that annexation into Hampstead would entail.
"We are on county property so that is who we dealt with; there was no reason to annex," Pasqualini said.
Although it is not within town limits, Sweetheart has tried to be a good corporate neighbor, said Pasqualini, who detailed participation in a fund-raising golf tournament, contributions to the Hampstead volunteer fire department and equipment donated to area schools.
"Most corporations today practice enlightened self-interest," said Joe L. Carter, instructor in economics and business at Western Maryland College. "It is in their best interests to look at their host community as a source of employees and customers. It is just good marketing."