The following article is also available in our enhanced Laurel Connections Podcast format. My thanks to Karen Lubieniecki , Marlene Frazier, Councilman Mike Leszcz, Jim McCeney, and Michael Dyer for participating in our podcast.
There was a meeting tonight at city hall to discuss a new development called Hawthorne Place. Please see the Leader’s excellent coverage of Hawthorne Place here.
update: Please also see Keith's take on the meeting at the Laurel2020 blog here.
Tonight’s meeting was typical in many ways. About twenty people attended. The group included bedrock members of the Laurel community. They listened as developers described their dream for Hawthorne Place. The community listened carefully and asked polite questions.
But in many ways I think the tonight’s meeting was far from typical. I think we will remember tonight as an important moment in the history of Laurel.
I say this because I think Hawthorne Place represents the first step towards a new Laurel. The profound question our community must answer is as follows:
In 2015 will Laurel’s commercial core be primarily suburban or urban?
Today Laurel is a suburban town with a suburban feel. We have Main Street and a commercial core along Route 1. Route 1 has a handful of commercial strip shopping centers, a mall undergoing massive revitalization, big box retail stores, and a couple of car lots. Today Laurel is very much like thousands of other suburban towns across America.
Silver Spring, Bethesda, Rockville are examples of town centers with a more urban feel. They have more intense development, high rise buildings, and parking garages. While not Washington’s K Street, or Manhattan’s East side, Hawthorne Place has more in common with them than with say … Columbia or Bowie, or Laurel as it is today.
Hawthorne Place will bring about 2000 residents and 150 thousand square feet of office space and plant it all on 11 acres. It will obviously bring traffic, but also an awesome new tax base to fuel the city.
Most importantly, Hawthorne Place will cause similar development. You can bet that if Hawthorne Place is approved as explained tonight, the market will drive Laurel to a more urban development pattern in the future.
The questions at tonight's meeting reflected these concerns. People asked the developers about the density stemming from 20 and 16 story apartment buildings.
While people seemed to focus on traffic and building height, I think the real debate is about coming to a community agreement on a vision for Laurel’s future. Will Laurel remain suburban or should we become more urban?
This is an important moment in Laurel’s history. We must continue this conversation. However, I suggest we focus our conversation on the fundamental question of wanting a suburban or urban feel in Laurel's commercial core. Building heights, density, or traffic at Hawthorne Place are all leading indicators of a more profound decision. I suggest we look past these specific decisions about the Hawthorne Place project to focus more broadly on Laurel’s future.
Please share your comments about Hawthorne Place and the future here.
Click here to hear voices from tonight’s meeting. I’m also looking for feedback on the podcast format. Please let me know if you find it useful. -rick