Walkable Laurel, a proposed 73-unit, mixed-use apartment project in Laurel, cleared its first hurdle July 27 after its overlay concept plan was approved at Laurel’s Mayor and City Council meeting.
Proposed by New Legacy Partners, a Chevy Chase-based residential real estate development firm, the project would be located on 1.47 acres between B and C streets at Tolson Alley in Old Town.
The plan proposes six new buildings on what are currently vacant lots and a parking lot, including a five-story building as well as three-story buildings and two-story townhouse apartments. Apartment options would include one-and two-bedroom, flats, lofts and two, live- work units, that would allow art studios or offices on the ground floor with living quarters above. Units for those with disabilities also would be available.
Key features of the project are public common areas and retail shops that would have connections to both Main Street and Riverfront Park to provide easy access for both residents and Main Street visitors to explore.
“It is an urban concept that’s the opposite of a gated community suburban concept,” said Ronald Eichner, managing member for New Legacy, at council work session on July 13. “That’s why these public spaces and how they flow and how they work are absolutely essential to the development and design concept here.”
The project is designed with those looking for an urban lifestyle, Eichner said. While there are 76 parking spaces planned, the typical resident will prefer a “car-lite” lifestyle that includes ride-sharing and the use of public transportation, including the MARC train station, which is located near the site, Eichner said. The company is also looking into a bike-share program for residents and is including bike storage areas in its plans.
“It is a perfect location for a transit-oriented development approach,” Eichner said. “Our overall goal is to create plans uniquely attractive to people who choose to live in a walkable Main Street neighborhood. We are very confident the project will bring new residents to the Main Street area.”
During the first of two public hearings, Brian Coyle, a Laurel resident and co-chair of Laurel for the Patuxent, a local group focused on environmental concerns, said he was concerned about the project’s effect on the environment. He specifically pointed out the Patuxent River, which received a D grade for environment quality by the University of Maryland Environmental Science program.
“To me, another building so close to a river, especially the Patuxent, is the antithesis of smart planning,” Coyle said.
He advised the city to preserve the site as a public park, even suggesting that it be named New Direction to represent “the moment the city made a bold move to choose livability over development; in favor of the community and families over a few wealthy builders.”
“It would be a very strong statement from this administration …about commitment to livability and health,” Coyle said.
At the second public hearing, Robert Love, deputy director of economic and community development, informed the council that multiple agencies and city departments were notified of the proposed plan and were asked for comments. He said requests came from the city’s Department of Public Works, Department of Parks and Recreation and Laurel’s Emergency Services Commission including questions seeking more information about garbage and recycling plans and including as much green space as possible.
Council member Carl Dewalt expressed concerns about the number of apartments already in the city, possible parking issues and the effects the development would have on the environment, specifically the Patuxent River.
DeWalt suggested the developers of New Legacy Partners meet with members of Laurel for the Patuxent to discuss environmental issues before the next meeting of the mayor and city council in September and then he would place a vote.
City Council President Keith Sydnor reminded DeWalt that it was the second hearing for the proposed development and that there would not be another vote taken. DeWalt then abstained from voting.
Sydnor also noted at the hearing that the stormwater management plan had been reviewed by Prince George’s County and approved. He asked that the project’s engineer explain to the council that there was a plan in place so as not to contaminate the Patuxent River.
Todd Reddan an engineer for Gutschick, Little and Weber, an engineering consulting firm in Burtonsville, assured the council that the project met all the county standards to the “maximum extent practical,” including best management practices filtering rainwater from the roofs, some of the sidewalks and some of the parking lots.
“We are going to be treating about 1.8 inches of rainfall, which is a pretty good amount of rainfall. We definitely met the county standards,” Reddan said. “At this point, it is a conceptual site plan, so we have a conceptual stormwater plan. We can look at some more features before the final design.”
Moe noted that the council was only approving the conceptual plans and that it would have to go through other reviews, including by the Planning Commission, before it could be built. He asked Love to discuss the possibility of creating composting within the facility.
“We’re doing that in the city now and it is something that we need to make sure multi-family units are working to try to do,” Moe said, adding that the city could partner with the development or it could contract out for the service.
“What I’ve seen, looks very nice. Walkable,” Moe said, at the meeting. “This is all part of the overall strategy that we had for Main Street about trying to get foot traffic and livable units down there. Hopefully, we’ll start seeing some of the economic development.”