Thursday, June 28, 2007

Eastside Phase 1: Hawthorne Place

As anticipated by last month's comments by Laurel city officials, the new owners of the old Roadway Express trucking site have announced plans for a very large mixed-use development project. We're talking 7 buildings of between 5 and 20 stories tall, up to 1,200 housing units and 140,000 square feet of office space. It'll be called Hawthorne Place.

Assuming they stick to the concepts of "pedestrian-friendly", "courtyards" and "green space" mentioned in this week's articles in the Leader and the Gazette, this would seem to all fit very nicely into the ideas we've discussed here previously. At first it would seem that this site would be a bit isolated from the things happening at the Laurel Commons site but it's easy to see where additional projects would undoubtedly fill in the "in-between" area.

It's not too surprising that a couple of city officials (Mayor Moe and City Council president Smalls) have immediately questioned the "20 story" idea, but it really doesn't seem that tall for one of the anchor buildings of what will most likely be a "mini city" that extends south of the Hawthorne Place site toward Cherry Lane. After spending a few minutes standing on the hill in Gude Park and looking to the north (out across the top of the stage), I don't think a 20 story building at the Hawthorne Place site would overwhelm the city skyline. There's a significant change in elevation (downward) as you move from the area containing the tall apartment buildings on 4th street to the Hawthorne location, such that 20 stories wouldn't be enormously taller than the apartment buildings.

The drawing included in the online version of today's article about the project in the Laurel Leader is very small, but it's much better on the front cover of the "hardcopy" edition. It is interesting that the developers obviously anticipate a lot more high-density development to surround it. Hopefully the city will require that the final design give plenty of consideration to access to adjacent parcels. No reason for Hawthorne Place (why can't I type that correctly? keeps coming out "Hawthrone") to be a self-contained enclave, consider it the beginning of a larger "Eastside". The site falls within the "RO-1" overlay zone as specified in the city's master plan, so the city will have plenty of opportunity to make sure it's done right.

Project spokesman William Shipp said "We may have some retail, but we know the mall is the retail commercial core and we don't want to detract from that, so we may have a coffee shop or dry cleaners." Well, let's hope there's a lot more non-residential ground-level activity going on than a Starbucks and a dry cleaners. It's not like the site is right next door to the mall/"Commons", so some combination of retail/restaurant/entertainment will be key to having a "lot of activity on the street level."

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