The next level of discussions are finally taking place between the operators of the Laurel Commons mall and the city of Laurel, prior to the redevelopment process getting started. According to the local newspapers, there are couple of issues where the city and the developers disagree. Have to believe it's all part of the negotiation process and it'll all be worked out...but who knows?
The city is rightly worried about the traffic impact on little old Fourth Street, so they'd rather not have the bus stops along that street. Commons, not surprisingly, isn't too thrilled about the idea of putting the bus stops within their property. (I've read a little more since writing this, so...) Apparently the city would like the bus stops to be on the Route 1 side of the mall. I have to agree with the Commons guys on this one: it's a very bad idea. The planned open-air restaurants and stores on the Route 1 side are the first step towards a major transformation of Route 1. Having idling buses parked along Route 1 would destroy the "walkability" of that stretch of the road. I can understand the desire to minimize impact to 4th Street, but allowing the Commons the option of bringing the bus stops onto their property (but on the Fourth Street side) would be the best way of proceeding.
For reasons that weren't explained in anything I read, the city is interested in having a skating rink added to the property as part of the "public amenities" requirements. While there's something rather romantic about having a lively spot for outdoor wintertime activity, it's not like we have a shortage of ice in the area (The Gardens Ice Rink is only a couple of miles away). It's a pretty significant expense, so you can understand why Commons isn't thrilled with this idea either. The city would be better served by requesting something that would have something closer to year-round usefulness - a nice chunk of greenspace for performances, festivals?
And finally, and not surprisingly, we have another battle over the question of the relative desirability of renters versus condo owners. The city would like "Phase 2" of the project to include 400 condo units versus the current plan to build 440 rental apartments. As I discussed in an earlier blog entry, I'm not convinced that this is as big of a deal as those on the pro-condo side make it out to be. I still haven't seen any real evidence indicating that mid- to high-level rental units (and that's what we're talking about here) bring residents that are less economically beneficial to the community. Given the expected age of renters, I can actually see them spending more in a complex like the new Commons development. It would be nice if the city could provide some studies behind their position. At the moment it looks more like this is being driven by public perception: "During the last year, the city government has been criticized for allowing too many rental apartments", said Karl Brendle of the city planning commission. Listening to public complaints is always a good idea, but educating the public is also a valuable part of leadership.
The next public hearing regarding Laurel Commons is scheduled for Monday, November 26th.
In a semi-related development, the Hawthorne Place project passed it's first of many hurdles with the city. The maximum building height has been lowered to 16 stores. Many, many more meetings to be conducted on this project in the future. Still several years until we see any results.