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Laurel Master Plan Update: Considers Annexation, Regional Connections

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The City of Laurel is edging closer to a master plan update that is required every 10 years by state law. In April, Master Plan Committee Chair Rick Wilson detailed the work of the seven-member committee and presented a draft of the city’s latest plan at a public hearing.

Laurel stands as the only Prince George’s County municipality with the authority to accomplish its own planning and zoning. “That’s something the city has guarded judiciously over the years,” Wilson said, adding that only a handful of Maryland’s 157 incorporated municipalities share the same distinction.

According to Jack Brock, director of community planning and business services for the city, Laurel’s Master Plan was last updated in November 2007, and an amended plan was adopted in 2009 to incorporate a water resource element required by the state.

The most significant changes, he said, are updates of the 2000-era document to include data and analysis from the 2010–2015 timeframe.

Four areas for future annexation have also been identified in the draft.

“These are areas that would straighten out the current municipal boundary,” Brock said, noting that the areas would be required to retain their current zoning category for five years, unless the Prince George’s County Council approves a higher density for the parcels.

Growth, Annexation

Laurel appears to have benefited tremendously from the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process and an influx of jobs tied to businesses tied to, or located near, Fort Meade.

According to Brock, Laurel’s population experienced a 25% increase between 2000 and 2010, rising from 19,960 to 25,115. For comparison, overall population growth in the county was only 7.7%.

Median family income in Laurel also saw a 25.4% increase from $58,500 to $73,300 in the same time period, he said, while the number of housing units increased by 14.3%.

Currently, the city comprises 4.73 square miles.

One of the areas recommended for annexation consists of 77 scattered parcels east of Contee Road, including the Westgate Apartments, Laurel Regional Hospital and the Laurel Medical Arts Pavilion. The other areas include the Laurel Business Center and a number of residential parcels lying between Route 1 and Route 197; residential parcels located to the west of Contee Road and located between Laurel and the proposed Konterra development; and a collection of primarily residential parcels on the city’s northwestern boundary.

A financial analysis report, conducted by Valbridge Property Advisors, of Naples, Fla., concluded that the city could see a modest, more-than-break-even increase in tax revenue from the proposed annexations when considering the extension of public services.

“There is an upside potential … as specific properties are redeveloped with higher value uses,” Brock said.

Connections, Incentives

One of the city administration’s chief goals in the framework of the Master Plan is to improve collaboration with adjacent jurisdictions to ensure coordinated land use patterns, connected transportation networks and continuous environmental networks.

“Howard County was doing transportation studies that stopped at the border,” Wilson said, while some of the city’s own previous studies did likewise.

“Anything we can do to encourage [collaboration], to get that into state law,” he said, “it’s one of the things I think the city is right to pursue.”

The plan recommends a historic structure survey and analysis to identify historically significant properties outside the historic districts, and encourages tax credits and other incentives for their preservation or adaptive reuse.

It also encourages support for advancing the city’s affordable housing program by providing workforce and affordable housing in new developments, and developing incentives for attracting new artists to future arts and entertainment districts.

Smart growth and transportation uses, to include implementation of the MARC train station transit-oriented development project and advocacy of pedestrian, bicycling and other transportation alternative infrastructure, also get a nod.

The only change to the Comprehensive Land Use Map is in the city’s Corridor Center, Brock said. “It’s an antiquated land use development, and it’s recommended that this be MXT (mixed-use zoning) because it’s contiguous to Route 198 and I-95.”

Future Considerations

With more than 3,000 housing units in the development pipeline and a corresponding increase of about 7,400 more residents, “that’s going to change the way we perceive the city,” Wilson said. “We’re advocating the city do what it can to advocate at the state level for regional planning, especially when it comes to transportation.”

The plan needs to help the city establish the right mix or property designations to encourage investment, he said.

Laurel Mayor Craig Moe requested that the committee plan consider including the possibility of so-called micro housing as a housing option in the plan.

“I was approached [in March] by a developer who asked if we would be interested in that,” he said. “We’ve seen [the trend] on different television shows; I’d like to … see if there’s something that may fit into the overall plan of the city and just get some feedback.”

Additionally, he said, the plan should reference Laurel Regional Hospital and meeting the needs of the community through medical care.

“We’re still talking [with hospital stakeholders],” Moe said. “We’re not done; we’re close, and I’m hopeful that within the next 30 days we may have an announcement for everybody [regarding the hospital].”

The current draft has been submitted to state agencies and contiguous counties for comment, and will be submitted with a report to the City of Laurel Planning Commission after a waiting period of 60 days.

The Planning Commission will hold its own public hearing on the Master Plan update. Adoption of the new plan by the mayor and city council requires two additional public hearings that will likely occur in July or August, Brock said.

The City of Laurel’s 2016 Master Plan Draft Document is available online at the city’s website, www.cityoflaurel.org.