«Title of Dissertation: Community journalism as ritual: A case study of community and weekly newspapers in Laurel, Maryland Lindsey Lee Wotanis, ...»
Meanwhile, one thing most participants agree on was that the only constant in Laurel is change. Fredrick Smalls, 58, resident of the city of Laurel for 15 years and member of city council, summed it up when he said Laurel is ―a community that has the simplicity of a small town and the pains of a more urban community.‖ According to many participants, growth is responsible for those pains.
Stability versus growth That it has changed from its early days in the 1870s is no surprise. As Nate remarked, ―the only constant is change.‖ For Laurel, a place rich with history, showing reverence for that history while becoming a place in which people want to live and work has proved challenging. With improved roads and
Washington push out and move into Laurel. And as nearby Fort Meade starts seeing the effects of BRAC (Base Relocation and Closure), reports have indicated that BRAC will have a significant impact on housing demand in Central Maryland through 2015 when several bases close while Fort Mead, located just north of Laurel, remains open (BRAC Impacts, 2009, p. 3). The report, put together by Sage Policy Group, Inc., said that approximately 55 percent of relocating households will look for housing in Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, as well as the City of Laurel.
Embracing (and bracing) for growth Mayor Craig Moe knows that Laurel must brace for such an impact. He said, A mayor said to me years ago, ―There will be a day that you won‘t be able to tell Laurel from D.C. or Baltimore.‖ This was twenty some years ago. I had no idea what they were talking about. I mean, what are you talking about? On the way it‘s pushing out, you know? I‘ve talked to some developers that had developed the Baltimore or Washington area and it‘s getting very costly, so you‘re seeing them push out. Do I want to see a Baltimore or a Washington? No, I think we‘re a unique city unto our self and we‘ll grow accordingly. […] The only thing that I‘ve tried to do while I‘ve been mayor is to prepare for the BRAC. It really does concern me because you‘re talking some 20 to 30,000 new people in this area, in this
housing, all of those things, so we‘ve been trying to prepare for that.
The mayor added, ―We‘ve got […] a couple of projects that are looking just basically at attracting BRAC individuals as they start moving here.‖ This suggests that he and the rest of Laurel‘s city council are looking to grow Laurel by attracting BRAC families to choose Laurel over other parts of Central Maryland.
But, Fredrick Smalls, member of city council, made clear that such growth needs
to be controlled and they do it mainly through zoning:
I‘ve been on the council seven years and I certainly can remember [during] my brief time on the council now, a period when growth wasn‘t something that was very welcomed. Folks wanted the city to just remain a small, quaint, sleepy, as many people described it, community. But I think we‘ve managed to do both. I really do. I think, well, through a number of development efforts, through a number of zoning initiatives that we‘ve taken on, we‘ve managed to maintain that quaintness but also keeping pace with smart growth and growing in a way that has been a benefit to
In order to keep Laurel ―small,‖ council has taken many zoning initiatives and designated ―development zones,‖ in order to keep the ―McMansions … out of some of the smaller communities,‖ said Smalls. In addition, through the zoning, they are able to keep larger, commercial development in the city center along the Route 1 corridor. According to Smalls, ―It allows for a nice mix of residential
remain our quaint Old Town area.‖ Another development concern for people living in Laurel is Konterra, a new development in South Laurel set to break ground in 2012. According to an article in Laurel Today, a supplement to Maryland Life and a document funded by the City of Laurel and other ―community partners,‖ Konterra will be a 488-acre town center, a ―significant urban enclave‖ where people will live, work, shop and dine (Konterra: New Ideal for City Life). A July 6, 2010 Washington Post article said that Prince George‘s county residents are hoping Konterra will attract some high-end department stores, like Nordstrom‘s or Saks Fifth Avenue. According to the article, When it comes to department stores, Prince George's trails far behind other Maryland suburbs. It has 1.97 square feet of department store space per household, compared with 4.7 in Anne Arundel County, 5.1 in Montgomery County and 5.2 in Howard County, according to a 2005 report prepared by McComb Group, a retail consulting firm (Wiggins, 2010).
Tom Archer, vice president of development for Forest City Washington, a development partner on the Konterra project, said that he saw ―a high degree of department store interest‖ in Konterra at a recent Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas (Wiggins). In a promotional material for Konterra, called the Konterra Times, Mayor Craig Moe said, in a Q & A article, ―I believe our efforts here in the City will serve as a complement to Konterra Town Center. As close neighbors,
While Mayor Moe paints a public relations picture of the positive impact Konterrra will have on the City of Laurel, Michael Leszcz, has a different outlook regarding the potential impact of Konterra.
We‘re worried about growth. […] Konterra is a worry. What‘s going to be the impact of Konterra? They‘re building as we speak. The Intercounty Connector, although we didn‘t have a say in it, but it is an area, an area of concern. There‘s another development right across the BW Parkway on Iand some acres. So all those things are concerns. What‘s the impact on the community, what‘s the impact on the environment?
These concerns were echoed by many of my participants concerned about all of the changes taking place in and around Laurel.
Resisting change Christine Folks, columnist for the Laurel Leader and West Laurel resident, said that even in West Laurel, she and her neighbors can feel the pains of development that have occurred in Laurel—development that, she said, no one asked for.
In Laurel in general, the development has just has gone so fast [and] has kind of overtaken much to the chagrin of most of us. Most people here don‘t want it. The city officials and stuff, of course, they want it because it brings in more revenue, you know? Of course they want it. But most of us
here, but unfortunately that seems to happen no matter where you go.
When we moved here MD 198 was a two lane highway. You didn‘t hear truck noises and car noises and so forth, and now it‘s a four lane highway and sometimes they talk about making it bigger. Like, what? You know, how can you do that how can you do that to people that live here much less across the street and the house over there, you know? How can, as long as it‘s for the sake of development, they don‘t care. They don‘t ask
Dan Schwind, 26, education reporter for the Laurel Leader, acknowledged that these ―powers that be‖ do exist and suggested that the push is coming from
outside, rather than inside:
I don‘t like that there is, sort of, just because of the number of developers that are coming in that are trying to almost convert [Laurel] into this massive luxury town, like [developments such as] West Chester and Ashbury Courts. I don‘t think that it‘s the right town, just dumping these massive overpriced condominiums and luxury apartments. And, I‘m not trying to say that this town doesn‘t deserve good apartments. I mean, there‘s plenty of good apartments, but I don‘t think this is the type of town where you want to be paying $2,000 a month rent, you know? That‘s sort of the way I think, so, I like that it is a simple town. I don‘t like that
the outside maybe to try and upgrade it into this snooty town that it‘s not.
Several participants expressed that while the growth is coming and perhaps inevitable, there does not seem to be much serious thought behind the effects of such rapid growth in Laurel. Bob Mignon, resident of Russett and owner of a Laurel business, pointed out that such rushed development leads to eye sores in the area.
There are some places that just don‘t look pleasing to the eye. There is ugly development … or lack of development. There‘s old structures that are dilapidated, falling down and not pleasant to look at. There are telephone poles of wires all over the place, and I think that if we‘re going to attract people from BRAC who are coming from Northern Virginia or other parts of the country to Fort Meade, we need to kind of spruce things up a bit. And I think that with any development that takes place, I think that‘s a perfect opportunity to pass those costs of making things, you know, burying phone lines and electric lines, pass those on to the people who want to build a building there. And it can be done, but you have to have the politicians and the government people who want to have that happen and I think our Mayor is making strides in that direction.
But, perhaps not large enough strides. Mignon continued:
I think we should have a high expectation of the area in which we live.
And the politicians, I think the bar is too low in many ways. I‘d like to see much nicer restaurants in the Laurel community. I‘ll say to somebody, ‗I
Applebee‘s.‘ Their idea of good restaurant is Applebee‘s. It‘s not a white table cloth restaurant where you‘re going to get some different type dishes.
But again, in some ways maybe there is, the population is somewhat provincial and parochial and not really wanting to break out of that. […] Some people say why didn‘t you move to Gaithersburg or Rockville or something like that, you know? That‘s a valid question. You know, Laurel is not a Gaithersburg or a Rockville [two significantly larger, richer and more developed towns to the west of Laurel]. If you want that then
The lack of interesting or upscale restaurants in Laurel was a topic that nearly all participants touched upon. Especially on Main Street, restaurants, cafés and bars are lacking. On Route 1, chain restaurants, such as Olive Garden and Don Pablo‘s, dominate the scene. Fredrick Smalls, city council member, claimed that getting restaurants to open up on Main Street is difficult. Because many of the buildings are deemed historic, the renovations needed to bring the existing buildings up to code for such ventures often are not feasible or possible. This, he said, is one of the main challenges in revitalizing Main Street.
Questioning the city’s ability to grow Some questioned, however, whether or not the government in the City of Laurel really does have a handle on the revitalization and growth of Laurel. In a conversation that started out about voting, Theresa, 59, and Irene,78, longtime residents of Old Town Laurel, and Melissa, 25, a newcomer to Laurel, touched
Irene was talking about how the population has increased since she moved to Laurel, and Theresa asked how that growth in population has really affected the way the city is run.
Theresa: But how many of them vote? And that‘s, citizens don‘t see that they have a stake in voting, it‘s like you want to pull your hair [out] cause the only way you can get real change in terms of the vision is to have good people in office. […] [There is an] interesting disconnect, in that the basic services are really good […] But somehow at the upper levels, trying to
Melissa: It seems spotty, I mean, I don‘t know. This is an outside perspective, just from reading the paper and from hearing people […] It‘s very spotty. Like, there‘s not like a strategic plan, or if there is a strategic
Theresa: There is a master plan but nobody really wants to read it.
Melissa: I mean, what are the goals? How are you going to really make Main Street live and sustain itself? How are you going to reach this?
What are the steps to get toward that? I don‘t really see that. It seems like …
Melissa: … Oh, this came up now. We‘ll buy a pool and we‘ll dump X amount of money into it but we‘re not clear what having this pool is going to work us towards. I‘m not saying that we shouldn‘t have another pool. I
But how exactly is a new pool helping to transform Laurel into a successful and burgeoning contemporary community? Julie, 22, a college student who grew up in Laurel, agreed that the city has not done a great job of helping to bring historic
Laurel into 2010:
The old parts of Laurel seem very out of place to me, and the city really hasn‘t found a way, I don‘t think, to incorporate the old charm parts of the city in a way that‘s not incorporated at all. So, if you go to another town, they found another way to either curate their old sections in a way that brings in revenue or they found a way to make those old parts useful and bring them into what‘s new and sustainable. But, as Laurel stands now, we just kind of have things, like these strange buildings and these strange traditions that have, like nobody-knows-how-they-got-there-but-we-hopeit-was-an-accident kind of thing. So we‘ve got, like you know, the old, the old mill down by the river, but it‘s just sitting there, and not really … you know, it‘s just an example, one of the things that makes Laurel really authentic, but it‘s just kind of like sloughed off.
Sam, 44, who has lived in Maryland his entire life but who has only lived in the Russett area of Laurel for the past two years when he moved there to be with his girlfriend, Hannah, acknowledged that Laurel can become a more vibrant place, but isn‘t sure why it has fallen short thus far.