2014 state bills for Laurel focus on recreation

The start of the 2014 General Assembly legislative session is fast approaching, and lawmakers are putting together their wish lists.

Each year, delegations from across Maryland craft bills requesting funding, authorizations and other acts for local governments to be considered at the state level.

The District 21 delegation, which represents Laurel, College Park and parts of Anne Arundel County, is planning to propose two local bills in the upcoming session, which begins Jan. 8, that would affect Laurel.

Both bills would improve recreational opportunities in the city. The first, a request for $150,000 in funding for the Laurel Armory, would renovate and expand the city-owned facility; and the other, a $300,000 bond bill for the citywide path system, would upgrade existing park paths and extend a pathway along Riverfront Park to the Stephen Turney Recreational Complex.

Parks and Recreation Director Mike Lhotsky said funding for expansions to the Armory were needed to keep pace with growing use of the facility, which hosts department-sponsored classes and workshops as well as indoor sports programs.

The Armory, which according to Lhotsky has received about $750,000 in state matching grants since fiscal year 2006, is currently undergoing brick and mortar work, and window renovations. He said new funding could be used to expand the building's bathrooms, upgrade electrical and plumbing systems, and renovate the inside of the building.

"More people are coming out to use it," Lhotsky said of the Armory and the need to keep it up-to-date.

"It's a building that's been in the community for a long time and that's had many uses over the years and this will just continue to solidify the recreational uses of the building," he added.

Lhotsky said the second bill, which would fund an expansion of city paths, would also add to Laurel residents' recreational options.

Expanding the Riverfront Park path from its current end at Route 1 to the Stephen Turney Recreational Complex "just makes sense," he said. "We've always wanted to expand the path to hook into other parks in the city and this one makes such good sense to do."

The $300,000 bond would pay for engineering and construction of the path. Lhotsky said the city might have to purchase some land from landowners with property bordering the path.

District 21 state Sen. Jim Rosapepe said both projects would be "great benefits to the citizens" of Laurel.

He said he and the other members of the delegation would "try real hard to get either or both" of the bills passed. "We generally have been able to get some money for Laurel projects," he said, though he added he couldn't make any predictions about the bills' chances until he had a clearer picture of the state budget for fiscal year 2015.

Rosapepe said he expected the delegation to focus on transportation this session, as well.

"It's very, very important that we preserve and expand our local bus service," he said of the Central Maryland Regional Transit system, "so I think that's going to be a high priority for the delegates and me this upcoming session."

He also pointed to a proposal for midday service on the MARC Camden line, which will be in the budget for this coming year.

"Laurel is really in the center of the Camden line between Baltimore and Washington," he said. With the Camden Line's connection to the College Park Metro station and a Purple Line light rail currently projected to start running in 2020, Rosapepe said the city was on the verge of becoming even more connected.

"In a few years … it will be possible to go from Laurel to College Park and then on to Bethesda" and beyond, he said.

Other local bills proposed by the District 21 delegation include a motor vehicle permit exception for the University of Maryland bus service that would remove a sunset date and permanently establish the authority of UM to provide shuttle bus service to residents of College Park and certain other municipalities; an authorization for College Park city employees to enter into the state's retirement and pension system; and the College Park Student Housing Subsidy Reduction Act, which would help focus development projects for student housing closer to campus on the west side of Route 1 in College Park.

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