Falling short of BRAC predictions, Laurel seeing uptick in growth

A decade ago, planners predicted that Laurel would see a surge in its population as civilian and enlisted military personnel, mainly from Virginia, were relocated to Fort Meade under the Base Realignment and Closure Act, or BRAC.

To prepare for the predicted influx of new residents, numerous proposed upscale apartment and residential housing developments were approved by the city to accommodate the expected swell of professionals. But most of those projects went into a holding pattern when a major recession hit the country in 2007.


"A home buying surge didn't happen, thankfully, because the recession kept the housing market slow and the [Laurel] market was not ready for a surge," said Karl Brendle, the city's economic development director. "It's taken longer for some projects to get done due to the recession."

Brendle was referring to projects such as the proposed mixed-use Hawthorne Place development on Marshall Avenue, near Route 1. That complex was to have more than 1,000 residential units built to target some of the thousands of residents that were expected to move to the area under BRAC. But two months ago, the project's developer, Patriot Realty, sold it for $8.5 million to Rockville-based Cohen Siegel Investors, citing a lack of financing, stemming from the recession.


"Hawthorne was to be the first [development] built but it will be put off until this fall with the new developer," Brendle said.

Brendle said Cohen Siegel initially will only build phase one, 296 units, and the second phase of the development, proposed as two high-rise residential towers, is "down the road or another year or so off."

City Council President Frederick Smalls is not so optimistic about phase two of the project.

"Those towers won't happen for quite some time, if at all," Smalls said.

Recession aside, many military personnel whose positions were relocated to Fort Meade did not move to the area and instead commute daily, according to Brendle.

However, the city's population has seen some growth. It's not the 10,000 residents that was predicted, but Laurel's population has increased from about 22,000 residents when BRAC started in 2005 to 26,000 today, according to the latest city figures.

Smalls is not sure that rise is due to BRAC.

"Shortly after BRAC, we saw a population increase in the areas around Fort Meade, but there was minimal impact in Laurel," Smalls said. "Odenton and other areas nearer Fort Meade saw bigger impacts."

Smalls said the surge in population is likely because of "people's natural attraction to new housing in the city."

Under construction

Over the past two years, in an improved economic climate, numerous new housing projects have taken off throughout the city. In the Van Dusen and Westside Boulevard area, near Laurel Regional Hospital, a 450-unit, gated apartment complex is being built, along with a mid-rise hotel, 30 townhouses and 200,000 square feet of retail space.

"Across from that, Avalon Bay is building a 350-unit apartment building. We annexed that area in 2013," Brendle said.


Single-family and townhouse sections of the Villages of Wellington and the Crescents at Cherry Lane have been completed, and 450 residential units are being built at the Towne Center at Laurel mixed-use complex that replaces Laurel Mall. New apartments are under construction at the former Police Department site off C Street and just off Montgomery Street on Phillip Powers Drive.

In addition, Brendle said, construction of residential units at the Laurel MARC station is expected to begin in September.

"This is still an active housing market," Brendle said.

In the mid-2000s, in anticipation of BRAC, Archstone built two upscale apartment complexes on Fourth Street and Contee Road. Both saw vacancy declines during the recession and they are now under new, separate ownership.

Betty Burt, manager of the now Klingbeil Management-owned Emerson on Fourth Street at Cherry Lane, said the 445-unit developments is currently 90 percent filled.

"Our renters are coming from all over, but we do work with the military and offer discounts to enlisted people," Burt said.

At the Windsor at Contee Crossing, owned by the GID Investment Group, manager Betina Severn said 99 percent of their units are leased.

"We're getting out-of-state people, defense people and a lot of military rentals," Severn said. "We give them 5 percent off on their rent and don't require a security deposit or amenities fees."

GID also owns The Brickyard, just off Route 1 in South Laurel, another project touted some years ago as developed partly to target through relocating because of BRAC. Its 433 high-end units were completed a year ago. Leasing consultant Ridgley Fromeberger said they are only 65 percent occupied.

"We want to get that number up more and are marketing it more all over, including Fort Meade," Fromeberger said. "So far, we're getting a lot of military people, but also health care and other government employees, too. We offer all government employees 5 percent discounts on their rent."

Brendle pointed out that they always realized that any population gains the city realized that were related to Fort Meade would go beyond BRAC.

"BRAC ended but there is so much more to Fort Meade than BRAC. NSA [National Security Agency] is building space at Fort Meade and there are other smaller units that have brought people to the area and will continue to do so," he said. "There are also other employment generators in the corridor, like Johns Hopkins, that bring people here and generate interest in this market."

Smalls agreed and again pointed to the numerous new housing projects as being a major factor that's attracting new residents to the city. Something he does not see slowing down any time in the near future, population- or development-wise.

"There's a lot of development going on here and other projects in the pipeline," he said. "The Laurel market is moving and developers have confidence in it. They wouldn't be building anything in the city if they didn't think it was a profitable market."

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