Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Entrepreneurs, Trains, Tampico and Libraries

Saturday morning, sitting on our front porch (a front porch is one of the benefits of an old Old Town House) drinking coffee I noticed a most enterprising man. I assume he was hired to landscape or do yard clean up in a neighbor's house. What was surprising was not his yard work -- but how he got to being able to do the yard work. This man, for whatever reason, did not have a car or truck at his disposal. Instead, we saw him make multiple trips on his bicycle. On one he was carrying an orange item (Perhaps an electric hedge clipper). On another he had an extension cord around his arm as he peddled down the street. His third trip was the best. Leaving the work house, he returned -- and bicycled back down the street -- power mower in tow. Now that's a work ethic.

Rail Travel
The day before (Friday) I took the 4:03 train to meet up with husband in Alexandria. Sigh. Train was right on time -- and made only 2 stops: Muirkirk/Greenbelt then on to Union Station -- we were there by 4:25. 22 Minutes. Think about that next time you're stuck in traffic. Or wish you could make a quick trip on weekends downtown for a show. I was at King Street Metro by 5:00 -- less than an hour from leaving Laurel, without the driving. A reminder of how our transportation COULD be.

Question; The Marc conductor clearly pointed out that Greenbelt was the last stop before Union Station. Here's a modest suggestion: Just run 1-2 cars regularly between Baltimore & Greenbelt -- folks can transfer at the latter for Metro. It's time to explain to CSX that they're obligated to meet our public needs. If we can virtually nationalize banks and car companies, surely we can get some better rail service.

Tampico and the PTS

This Thursday the PTA is holding a fundraiser at Tampico. Kudos to Eileen Collins and the PTS committee who are making their KaBOOM playground dream come true with persistence and dedication. Kudos also to Eduardo at Tampico -- for his more than generous offer of support - 50% of proceeds. This won't be a stretch for Ken & me since Tampico is easily our favorite local Mexican restaurant. The only question for me: Carnitas or Tinga Taco.

Went to the third LHS movie on Saturday: Attack of the Bodysnatchers. Pretty silly -- bit it did move along and the group enjoyed the Popcorn etc. (thanks Scott). Kudos to Lindsey for arranging the series. Her May 23 collaboration with the Laurel Mill Playhouse should also be fun -- Museum, Eats at Old Town Tavern and Theater: Pillow Talk.

And about the library

Haven't heard much more, but I noted in the last Leader the serious concerns of many Emancipation Park area residents over anything that will affect that historic area. As I've noted earlier, a new Library on the site of the Police Department's soon to be vacated site offers the potential of Main Street revitalization, a beautiful location that will bring people to underused but lovely Riverfront Park, and as an extra bonus, the opportunity to give the Grove area a new community center facility in the ultimately-vacated library building. Talk about a win-win

Monday, April 20, 2009

A 90% Note about the Historic District Commission

While at last weeks Senior Center groundbreaking -- a fine event in itself -- terrific to see former resident and Council member Faith Calhoun-- I had an interesting--and dismaying conversation with a gentleman about the idea of placing the library on Main Street. (which he liked)

As we discussed Main Street development he ended with a comment about how "developers/landlords are afraid to do projects because of the HDC." (or words to that effect.) His comments reflect the all to common, ongoing misinformation -- and desire to scapegoat -- the HDC as a institution that makes it difficult for people to do repairs or keep their property up.

The facts tell a different story.

My friend Jim about a year ago persuaded the HDC (of which he is a member) to keep track of and submit their records of decisions to the Mayor and Council. We have results for FY 2009. The truth is that last year the HDC did not deny ONE application.They had a total of 32 applications. 29 were approved without changes (including staff approvals, given for in-kind work, i.e. if I repair a white fence white the staff can approve the work). TWO were approved with agreed changes. One was continued. So-- fewer than 10% of the applications were even questioned. Ninety percent. NINETY PERCENT were approved as the applicant requested. The previous year's figures were similar: 83% as requested. Seven additional approved with changes. Seven continuedm none rejected.

Frankly, and Commission Chair Laurie Blitz, Mike, Jim and the other commission members may disagree -- I would suggest these figures might actually be a bit to low. I personally would like to see a little more rigor in the sign department -- with the City taking amore active enforcement role. Business owners should consider that signage reflects on the whole street and guidelines to regulate them and keep the place from becoming a trashy mishmash benefit all.

The Commission members in truth more than bend over backwards to work with home and business owners. My observation is that the applicants with the most egregious requests are the ones that grouse the loudest and blame the commission when their truly awful project is questioned.

Next time you feel like complaining about the HDC, or feel reluctant to bring your project before them, remember that based on recent figures you have a 90% chance of getting exactly what you want. (PS read the guidelines first, please, though..)

Oh, and PS for those who insist on confusing the two: The Laurel Historic District Commission is a Laurel City Agency. The Laurel Historical Society has NO affiliation with the HDC and is a private 501c3 Non-profit. The LHS has no say in applications for home and business repairs.

And that's my HDC vent for today.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Why We Should Move the New Library to Main Street

Before we commit to a new library on 7th Street maybe we should consider another location that can have major benefit for many elements of the Laurel area community: The property the police department will soon vacate at Avondale Street/Municipal Square. This site, owned by the City of Laurel, offers many advantages the current site/expansion/rebuild does not.

Building a new library on this site will achieve our first goal: a new, modern library to replace a sadly outdated and over-crowded facility. But it can help achieve a second important goal: revitalizing the economy of a major economic center: Laurel's Main Street.

Who will come to the new library? If current patronage is any indication: people. Lots of people. People who read, listen to music, view movies, use computers. Families and children. People interested in culture. People who shop, walk, dine and want to be entertained.

We talk a lot about the importance of making our communities green; of revitalizing areas, and about the importance of getting people out of their cars. The current library location is for all intents, a pedestrian and shopping dead zone. Rt. 198 is a major thoroughfare, very pedestrian unfriendly, and 7th/216 is an increasingly busy road. (ever try to cross during rush hour?) The Library's current location is pretty much a stop and go someplace else location. That could change.

Think of a Library on the police department site. Patrons could use a great new facility, easily accessible from Main Street, Rt 1, 198, 216 -- but one that, once they parked, was in a walkable area. It's an area filled with historic, interesting structres (take the LHS Walking Tour to see what I'm talking about.)

More importantly, people could go to the library -- and then WALK to a shop. Visit the Meat Market, go up to Finders Keepers for Antiques. Stop for lunch at the new place that will open because there are suddenly lots of customers nearby. Attend a community theater. I talked informally with Bob Mignon, head of the Laurel Board of Trade, and he thought it was a great idea. People at the meeting last week, including city officials, were I think, receptive, especially considering this was the first time most of them had considered it.

Worried about parking needs? Approaching parking for the area creatively could result in a parking structure that not only served library patrons, but also provided much needed parking for Main Street. Deck (multi-level) parking for a library may be an extravagance; decked parking that serves a library, Main Street merchants, a possible development that faces Rt 1 if Fred Frederick decided to develop his site differently, and even the MARC station overflow is economic good sense.

From the new library, which would abut the Patuxent River, and which could be reconfigured to become a Park gateway, people would finally have a reason to walk along Riverfront Park, a wonderful community resource that all agree is grossly under-utilized.

One of the major problems discussed on the meeting the other night was potential disruption caused by erection of a new library. Building on a site away from the current library allows that institution to continue operations without any disruption. More importantly, it preserves an historic park, and designated official Open Space (a major obstacle by all accounts). Emancipation Park, and the Grove have important historical connotations, not only for our city's African American Community but also as far back as the city's mill era. This approach preserves that history.

Extra bonus: once the new building was completed the old library building would be perfect for an additional community center for that part of town.

When the City of Laurel moved City Hall from Main Street it removed a major reason for people to come "downtown." Relocating the police department will remove another central service. Placing the new library in their place could go a long way to reversing this trend.

Even as Laurel expands geographically, it needs to keep its heart. That heart is its Main Street. Can it make a difference? Visit Frederick and see how important a role their library in the Older Part of town is.

We need a new library, and one inside the city limits is certainly the # 1 priority. - but wouldn't a library that not only grows minds but grows COMMUNITIES be an even better goal? Let's come together and find a way to bring the new library to Old Town Laurel