Laurel residents rallied against the expansion of a planned apartment redevelopment during a Monday night City Council meeting, citing concerns with traffic congestion and its impact on the community.
Laurel Reality Co., the developer for redevelopment of Laurel Gardens apartments, is proposing to spend about $10 million to demolish the existing complex and build garden apartments and townhomes.
Planners said they are asking the council to approve the construction of 114 units, up from the 96 units that were originally planned. The complex sits along Park Avenue, Ninth Street and Phillip Powers Drive.
But during Monday’s meeting, residents petitioned the council to put the brakes on the unit increase, contending that additional units would overwhelm narrow streets with traffic and take away from the community’s green space.
“We have concerns with the number of units in the space allowed,” said Grant Gross, a homeowner near the complex. “I believe the number of units will cause traffic problems…. Our concern is that they’re trying to build a little too much.”
Resident Andrew Jackson charged that the council rushed the plan through and didn't give the public enough time to weigh in on the development.
“It’s morphed into something that wasn’t [planned],” he said. “This thing has been railroaded at 1,000 miles an hour.”
The demolition and redevelopment of the complex would be done in three stages, said Robert DiPietro, who represented the developer and building owner. He said that the roads surrounding the building can handle the additional traffic.
Residents would be required to clear out at the start of each phase.
“Economically, [the additional units are] a good thing,” he said.
But residents living in the complex said it is one of the few communities in Laurel in which rent and utilities are under $1,000 a month and that they would like to be able to stay in the building.
Cheryl Curtis said she’s been living in the building for a year and can’t afford to pay more in rent. She said she's afraid she’ll have to leave the city if the building is demolished and higher rents are applied to the new building.
“There really isn’t a place for us in the city,” said Curtis, who works as a teacher’s aid in Laurel. “A lot of people feel like nothing can be done. It’s getting so that I can’t stay in the City of Laurel, where I truly want to be.”
DiPietro said the developer has lost money on the building for the last three years because the rent is so low. Some units, he said, are as low as $500 a month. He said he expects rates to go up once the new building is completed.
A second public hearing on the additional units will be held May 30 at the Laurel Municipal Building. Residents are invited to attend a Planning Commission meeting Tuesday night at the municipal building at 7 p.m. to discuss the issue.