After four years of planning, a coalition of Washington-area developers is beginning to build a $500 million mixed-use development in Laurel.
To be known as Laurel Lakes, the 275-acre tract along Route 1 will include a hotel and a variety of office facilities, including town houses, high-rise buildings and sites for businesses to custom build offices in a "campus-like setting," according to developer Michael T. Rose, who first envisioned the project.
More than 2,100 residential units, including town houses and single-family detached homes, are planned by six different residential builders.
Laurel Lakes developers must build three lakes within the project to maintain the existing stream valley, which runs through the northern portion of the site. But Rose and Tom Georgelas, a spokesman for the John G. Georgelas and Sons development company of McLean, said those lakes will enhance the entire development.
Georgelas said his firm is ready to begin "almost any day on an 800,000-square-foot office building" that will be the first of several included in his firm's development, which will be known as Laurel Lakes Executive Center.
That part of the mixed-use development is at the corner of Route 1 and Cherry Street, near an existing shopping mall. A luxury hotel is planned on the Georgelas property. "It will include a restaurant and plaza overlooking one of the lakes. But the final plans for it are not ready. I am not sure there is anything like this now in the county," Georgelas said.
The Laurel Lakes site is six miles north of the Beltway midway between I-95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. It is in the middle of what is being promoted by Prince George's County leaders as the Washington-Baltimore corridor, a connection between the two cities that should become a major center for high-technology businesses, proponents say.
However, the site and other vacant nearby land lies near the boundaries of four counties -- Montgomery, Howard, Anne Arundel and Prince George's. That can be seen as an advantge or disadvantage, depending on your perspective, one of the developers said.
Rose, Georgelas and Walter Petrie, a general partner in the McLean-based development firm of Pence-Petrie, said the location was advantageous. Petrie's firm has just begun construction of a retail complex that it hopes will be open for business in early fall.
Georgelas said the proximity of the site to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport should make it attractive to potential "R&D firms who need good airport access but don't want to be closer to Washington."
"Laurel Lakes is the best-kept secret in the Washington area," Rose said. His project has proceeded with little fanfare despite the years of planning and almost two years he said it took to get the proper zonings.
Several months ago, Prince George's County officials refused to approve a proposed 2,000-acre planned community known as Konterra, south of Laurel Lakes. Prince George's officials approved construction of only a segment of that project.
While the public focus was on Konterra, Petrie said the Laurel Lakes development group was drafting plans for construction and stirring developer and user interest in the project.
"We had time to put together some of the best builders in Washington," Rose said. "We have been working on this for four years." He said there was minimal opposition in general "to the project, but we did have a lot of concerns to work out, and that takes time."
For example, Rose will pay to make Route 1 a seven-lane road near the site.
"But we will eventually be a $500 million community," he said.
Rose compared the Washington-Baltimore corridor to the rapidly developing Fort Worth-Dallas corridor. The Laurel Area Chamber of Commerce recently published a profile of the Baltimore-Washington corridor and the Laurel area.
That report praises Laurel, saying "that locating in the corridor just makes plain sense from an economic, demographic and corporate marketing perspective." That report claims that "in many respects, the corridor outranks Dallas-Fort Worth and other market areas" based on a reported "median household income of $26,000" and "retail sales of $30 million" in 1982.
The study points to a 94 percent occupancy rate for existing rental housing in the corridor, where 35 percent of the residents rent rather than own homes. And, according to the study, 59 percent of those living in owner-occupied dwellings have lived there less than 10 years.
Developers said the area is ripe for construction and should readily be able to assimilate the increased office and residential space because it will not all hit the market at the same time.
The recent study said occupancy rates for commercial buildings in the corridor run between 85 and 95 percent.
Construction has just begun on the 43-acre retail center, which will include Bradlee's, T. J. Max, Hechinger's and the largest movie theater in the region. According to Petrie, his company is negotiating to bring Kids 'R' Us, the clothing store operation of the national Toys 'R' Us chain, to Laurel Lakes Center. This would be that company's first move into the Washington-area market, Petrie said.
Shopping center tenants had to agree to abide by strict building standards, Petrie said. Both Safeway and Hechinger's are giving up their traditional facades in favor of the brick fronts and pediments that are a part of the overall shopping center design. "The shopping center is not a centipede, spread out over a half mile strip as it would have been if we had chosen to build a traditional strip center," he said. Instead, the large facilities needed by stores such as Hechinger's are clustered around open malls with walkways covered by awnings in a California style, he noted.
Developers planning to build residences on different sites within the Laurel Lakes project include Capitol Homes, which will build 18-foot-wide town houses; Stan Halles, who will build the only detached homes in the project on 23 acres; Curtis Peterson, who plans to build a project known as The Tiers on a 20-acre site; Kettler and Scott, and the Milton Co. Rose will build two residential sections.
"We hope to have models open in each of the developments by September," Rose said.