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The Tastee Diner's blue neon sign stands high along Washington Blvd. in the diner's parking lot.
The Tastee Diner's blue neon sign stands high along Washington Blvd. in the diner's parking lot. (Karen Jackson / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The city of Laurel Board of Appeals met Jan. 24 to hear Special Exception application 890 by SH Holdings LLC for Pure Hana Synergy, to allow the use of a medical cannabis dispensary at the site of the Tastee Diner at 118 Washington Blvd.

As City Councilman Carl DeWalt from Ward 1, members of the Laurel Historical Society and others waited to testify, SH Holdings surprisingly withdrew their application, thanking Mayor Craig Moe, City Council President Michael Leszcz and DeWalt for ““the time here …. We thank the community for teaching us and telling us honestly what true feelings and priorities are.”

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As a collective sigh of relief filled the chambers, Board of Appeals Chairwoman Margaret Chenault adjourned the meeting within 10 minutes of calling it to order at 7 p.m.

Loud applause broke out at a city of Laurel planning commission meeting last week when a plan to replace Tastee Diner, an iconic city landmark, with a medical marijuana dispensary was rejected by the commissioners.

Marlene Frazier of the Laurel Historical Society said she was “really surprised and pleased” by the unexpected turn of events. Fellow Laurel Historical Society member Tom Dernoga, who serves on the Prince George’s County Council, was also pleased.

“Our exhibit [at the Laurel Museum] this year was civic activism, and this is a great example of what civic activism can do,” Dernoga said.

The portable diner moved to Washington Boulevard in 1951 and is one of only two existing Comac designs (the other is in Albany, New York). Owned and operated by Gene Wilkes since 1976, the future of the diner as a marijuana dispensary had been a source of contention for months.

On Nov. 30, the city released a statement that Moe and staff had reached an agreement with the owner of Pure Hana Synergy Medical Dispensary, the developer and the chair of the Laurel Historical District Commission to preserve and reuse the stainless steel building during renovation and to allow the city the right of first refusal for any future sale.

Many residents, however, feel that Laurel doesn’t need another marijuana dispensary.

Revolution Relief is located less than a mile away in Howard County, and the Laurel Planning Commission has approved a special exception application for Blu Pharms to open a dispensary in the Tower Plaza shopping center a mile south of the Tastee Diner at the Cherry Lane intersection.

Patrons of the beloved Tastee Diner in Laurel packed the restaurant Saturday morning to showcase its relevance and importance to the city of Laurel.

On Dec. 11, after 1,700 people signed an online petition to “Save the Laurel Tastee Diner” started by Facebook Laurel History Boy Richard Friend, the Laurel Planning Commission voted to recommend denying the Pure Hana Synergy application.

To date, 2,400 concerned citizens have signed Friend’s petition, which suggests that relocating the diner, perhaps to the empty site of the former Petrucci's Dinner Theatre, would create a “truly unique setting that would transform Main Street for generations to come.”

Laurel History Boy Pete Lewnes said he was glad to see things work out at the Board of Appeals meeting.

“I wish them [Pure Hana Synergy] the best of luck in finding a more suitable location to operate their business and also to Gene, with the city now doing whatever is needed to designate the diner as a historic landmark and preserve its rich history for future generations,” he said.

Lewnes said he knows Wilkes wants to retire, and the Laurel History Boys have talked about helping him find a buyer who wants to preserve the diner and ways to make it more attractive for a future sale.

“It’s fabulous,” DeWalt said, after the meeting. “I think this might be the start of the actual revitalization of Main Street.”

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