HAMPSTEAD — More than ten years after an attempt to incorporate Hampstead as a self-governed municipality failed to pass a referendum, the debate is back in the spotlight.
One group, the Hampstead Incorporation Committee, believes the area’s explosive growth in the past decade has resulted in a need to control development and provide services at a local level. The other, Save Our Community, believes incorporation would add an unnecessary second bureaucratic layer of local government – and burden residents with more taxes.
“There more are a lot of people in Hampstead very against the idea of having more government,” Save Our Community spokesman John Lobdell said. “A common thread among folks who have spoken at meetings is primarily related to adding another layer of local control, which is not necessary. And at what cost?”
Suzann Rhodes, leader of the pro-incorporation group and a former member of the Pender County Planning Board – she was asked to resign in March due to her role with the group – said the time has come to shift responsibilities away from Pender County.
“We wouldn’t be duplicating it; we’d be replacing it,” Rhodes said. “There would be no extraterritorial jurisdiction. [It would] take away that authority and power and put in Hampstead, with planning staff and its own planning commission.”
It would also allow for more localized services like police protection and road maintenance, important in an area that has a population density of 465 people per square mile, compared to 51 people per square mile in the rest of the county.
At the center of the debate is whether development in Hampstead should be controlled at the county level, as it is now, or by a local municipal planning board. For the anti-incorporation group, the latter is seen as an encroachment on the freedom of property owners.
“Growth is going to continue in this area,” Lobdell said. “People should be allowed to do what they want with their property … With the undeveloped land in the area, as long as it’s conforming to DEQ and current zoning rules, we’re very uncomfortable with adding restrictions to the way people use their property when they bought it under the assumption they’d be able to use it in a certain way.”
He said various homeowners associations already have control over the growth and development of their subdivisions. Additionally, a local board would be susceptible to the self-interests of its members – developers, real estate agents, and environmentalists, for instance, who would make decisions based on “their own agendas.”
Rhodes, a former planning director for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said county commissioners are elected by the entire county “to do what’s best for the county.”
“We need people in Hampstead to do what’s best for Hampstead,” Rhodes said.
She said the county’s planning and zoning department does not have the resources to effectively monitor zoning permits issued across the 870 square miles of the county. Additionally, more local controls on growth would place a check on developers who are removing too many trees and causing stormwater runoff issues, according to Rhodes.
A ‘police state’?
Another key issue involves the proposed creation of a Hampstead Police Department that would operate on a yearly budget of $2 million, in response to what the pro-incorporation group believes is too small a police presence in the area.
“Right now there are only two Sheriff’s deputies patrolling the entire eastern half of Pender County,” Rhodes said.
Lobdell, however, says many of Hampstead’s residents are retirees, commuters who work in Wilmington, and Camp Lejeune Marines – many who were attracted to the area because of its low taxes and minimal government control.
“They say we don’t have enough police protection. They’ve proposed a plan that would cost $2 million a year – half of the overall proposed budget – and all they’re going to do is add two day-shift officers,” Lobdell said. “They’re also talking about adding crisis intervention teams and K-9 units and drones. Is that really what people in Hampstead want? Do we really need a police state in Hampstead?”
“This would not be a police state,” Rhodes said. “It would be an additional service with a small department that knows the area, that knows the people, and with officers who can respond quickly.”
- Tuesday, April 23: The Hampstead Incorporation Committee will host an Open Community Meeting at Hampstead United Methodist Church (15395 U.S. 17), from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
- Thursday, May 2: Save Our Community will host a meeting at the Nineteen Restaurant at Old Pointe Country Club, beginning at 7 p.m.
- Saturday, June 8: Save Our Community will hold its final anti-incorporation meeting. Check their website for further details.
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com