The event takes place at McCullough Field in Laurel from 2PM to midnight. We can still use your help—in more ways than one!
A small donation on our Team Page will help us make a bigger impact. We’ve raised over $850 to date—which is terrific for a first-time effort; but we’d love to raise more. We’re currently #18 out of 31 teams. Every dollar helps, so please consider giving.
We could also use some help with the walking itself! The concept of the Relay for Life is that at least one teammate is constantly walking the course. Just as cancer never sleeps, the team keeps moving. Some teams have 10 or more members; but it’s just the three of us. So if you’d like to join our team and stop by to walk a few laps, we’d be grateful!
Please visit our Relay for Life Team Page to learn more about the event—that’s where you can also sign up or make a donation. When you’re at the Relay tomorrow, look for our red canopy with the Laurel History Boys banner and stop by to say hello!
Only minutes into the long-awaited Board of Appeals hearing last night at the Laurel Municipal Center, there was a major surprise when an attorney for Pure Hana Synergy—the applicant attempting to purchase the Tastee Diner—addressed the committee in the opening moments.
“The people have spoken, and we have heard. For that reason and out of respect for the community’s wishes, we have decided to withdraw the special exception application.”
Richard K. Reed, attorney for Pure Hana Synergy
And just like that, the meeting was adjourned. I’m very happy to report that the legendary Tastee Diner will not be turning into a medical marijuana dispensary, thanks largely in part to those who signed the petition and supported the efforts to save this rare and special building.
While our community activism certainly played a big role in this result, those of us rallying to “save the diner” actually shouldn’t get all the credit (or the blame, depending which side of the fence you were on) for the Pure Hana deal falling through. It ultimately came down to the City of Laurel’s own Municipal Code, which includes strict criteria for medical marijuana dispensaries—more than one of which should have disqualified Pure Hana from ever applying for the Tastee Diner location in the first place.
First, there was the issue of the “one mile rule” in relation to any other medical marijuana dispensary.
This rule was initially the focus of some creative interpretation, as the Diner site is well within one mile of Revolution ReLEAF, the dispensary just north on Route 1 at the former Sam & Elsie’s bar. Pure Hana proponents likely would have argued that because Revolution ReLEAF is located outside of the 21st District in Howard County, the one-mile rule doesn’t apply—even though the COMAR code clearly says that “the premises may not be located within one-mile of any other licensed premises.” It doesn’t specify District limits.
Compounding the problem for Pure Hana was the recent approval of another dispensary just barely* (*depending on how one measures it) one mile south at the Tower Plaza shopping center on Route 1 at Cherry Lane. Department of Economic and Community Development staffers claimed that “It’s very close, but they just meet (the one-mile requirement).”
But again, the code seems open to interpretation. How exactly is the distance measured—is it door to door, or is it from property edge to property edge? The distance between the Diner’s location and that of this new dispensary set to open soon at Tower Plaza could also easily have been challenged.
But it’s actually another rule in the Municipal Code that likely would have nullified this deal for good.
Because he didn’t have the opportunity to speak at last night’s hearing after all, I asked City Council member Carl DeWalt if I could publish the text of what he’d planned to say. With his permission, here it is:
Good evening. My name is Carl DeWalt. I retired from 22 years with the Laurel Police Department and proudly represent the Ward 1 Citizens of Laurel on the City Council.
I am here tonight to urge the Board of Appeals to uphold the decision of the Laurel Planning Commission to not recommend approval of the application of Pure Hana, also known as SH Realty Holdings LLC, to operate a medical cannabis dispensary.
While I believe that the Tastee Diner has important historical value and should be preserved, that is not the reason I am here tonight.
Two reasons lead to the conclusion that not only was the Planning Commission correct in its recommendation, but the Pure Hana application should not have proceeded to this point at all.
First. We have enough marijuana dispensaries.
As the Planning Commission noted, Laurel already has an approved Medical Marijuana Dispensary set to open very shortly.
• Distance is very close to the 1-mile mark, and if one uses the traditional legal definition of premises, the case can be made that the Blue Pharma company dispensary is less than a mile –4905 feet property line to property line.
• There is a dispensary in Howard County—Revolution ReLEAF. The Laurel Code states: “The premises may be not located within one-mile of any other licensed premises of a licensed dispensary of Medical Cannabis.”
This dispensary is less than a mile —.07 miles—from the proposed dispensary, and while some may say the fact that it is in another jurisdiction means any restrictions don’t apply, I would disagree. A mile is a mile, and the law does NOT state “within a mile…within the Laurel City limits.”
• Do we really need 3 dispensaries in a 1.8-mile radius?
• There is another dispensary operating on Rt 198, in Burtonsville.
• How many medical dispensaries do we need?
• How many do we need in the Laurel City limits?
• When the City passed its amendment to the unified code, was their intention to make Laurel a marijuana mecca? I don’t think so. I hope not. And I hope you don’t think so either.
My second, and more important point addresses the fact that this application should never have been allowed to proceed this far.
• WHY. The Tastee Diner location disqualifies it from being a medical marijuana dispensary.
The Laurel amendments to the special exceptions in the unified code state: Premises shall not be located within 1000 feet of a lot line of a public or private school, or real property owned by the Prince George’s county Board of Education or house of worship.
I draw your attention to the Prayer Tower Bible Way Apostolic Faith Church, 12 2nd St, Laurel, MD 20707.
1. Image of sign and Church entrance. This well-established faith community is less than 1,000 feet from the Tastee Diner. As the crow files, its 668 feet door to door. Less if you consider it lot line to lot line—which is the proper measurement.
Walking along established roads it is 747 feet.
2. How do I know these figures? Google Maps Distance feature, P.G. County’s own tool, P.G. Atlas, a laser Bushnell range finder and a surveyor measuring wheel. Under any measurement, the distance between Tastee Diner and the Prayer Tower Bible Way Apostolic Faith Church is less than 1000 feet.
3. According to the City’s own ordinance, which says a dispensary must be 1,000 feet from a house of worship, this application does not qualify for approval.
On the basis of both these factors I ask you to uphold the Planning Board’s recommendation.
I suspect that no one—from either the Pure Hana camp or within the City of Laurel’s Department of Economic and Community Development—ever noticed that there is, in fact, a church less than 1,000 feet from the Tastee Diner.
Perhaps because it isn’t in what we’d consider a traditional church structure, it was simply overlooked. But there it is—in the small strip mall at the opposite end of Dottie’s Trophies.
Between the sheer number of other dispensaries in the area, the questionable distance between dispensaries both north and south of the Diner, and now the realization that there’s an established church less than 700 feet away, it’s now clear that this location was just never meant to be a medical marijuana dispensary.
While I think we’d all love to know how the Board of Appeals would have voted, it’s probably best for the City of Laurel that they didn’t have to. Because had they somehow decided to overturn the Planning Commission’s recommendation—especially in light of these facts—the optics would have been quite bad.
For the record, I don’t suspect that they would have done that. But I both admire and respect Pure Hana’s decision to withdraw their application.
While the immediate threat has been eliminated, the Diner’s future is still very much in jeopardy, however. Owner Gene Wilkes was understandably disappointed in the deal falling through, and remains eager—perhaps more so than ever—to sell the property. After last night’s meeting adjourned, he hinted at considering simply “closing it down and boarding it up.” Given the resurgence of business since news of the potential sale first broke, let’s hope that Mr. Wilkes doesn’t make any such rash decisions. But that’s something that we, as supporters of the Diner, need to help with—please continue to frequent the Diner and encourage others to do so as well.
It’s entirely fitting that on the very day that the dispensary drama would be resolved, the latest issue of the Laurel Leader came out with this as the cover story.
Now is the time for the City of Laurel to work with Mr. Wilkes on a way to purchase the Diner for the City’s Historic District. Mayor Craig Moe has already gone on the record, asking that Laurel be given the right of first refusal for any future sale—well, that availability is here. And with the help of state and county preservation grants, crowdfunding, and willing investors, it can be done—and the long term benefits would be immeasurable.
In the meantime, please continue to to support the Tastee Diner and its hardworking staff. Packing that parking lot on a regular basis is the surest way to keep the City’s attention… and more importantly, to keep the Diner open.
Saturday morning, January 19th was an extra-special day at the Tastee Diner. The Laurel History Boys’ “Diner Appreciation Day” saw an outpouring of residents and diner fans from all over the region. Between trying to eat breakfast and chatting with as many folks as possible, it was hard to get an accurate headcount—but the parking lot remained full from before the event began at 9AM until well after noon. And Sunday was a near-repeat, as the diner was packed once more.
Diner staff went the extra mile, decorating the car with balloons and ensuring that customers were seated and served promptly. Karen Lubieniecki of the Laurel Historical Society shared the following photo gallery:
And City Councilmember Carl DeWalt posted on Facebook after the event:
Saturday morning attended “The Diner Appreciation Day.” The parking lot was completely full and the Diner was packed with our hometown residents. The honorable Prince George’s Co Councilmember Tom Dernoga and members of his staff attended and enjoyed a delicious Diner breakfast. Edith, my new friend, told us she has been coming to the Diner for the past 40 years and considers the Diner “Home” and the Diner staff and patrons family! Since 1985 when I became a resident and employee of the City of Laurel the theme surrounding Laurel was the revitalization of Main St. History indicates this has been a very very slow process. The outpouring of support I witnessed yesterday for the Diner by our citizens is a golden opportunity to help preserve that structure, move it to Main St. and finally achieve a huge step forward in this revitalization process!
Carl DeWalt, Councilmember, Ward 1
The pending sale to Pure Hana Synergy was unanimously denied on December 11th, and while the medical marijuana dispensary firm has been planning its appeal, I believe that we’ll ultimately learn that their application never should have received the City’s initial endorsement. A town’s Municipal Code can only be bent so far, and Thursday night’s hearing should remove all doubt.
While most are optimistic that the Board of Appeals will uphold the Planning Commission’s recommendation, the diner’s future is far from safe. Owner Gene Wilkes has made it abundantly clear that he still wants to sell. He mentioned having at least two additional offers on his property–both of which would result in the loss of the diner. This is why it’s imperative that the City of Laurel work with him (or his prospective buyers) on a solution that would allow the diner car to be preserved and relocated.
Mr. Wilkes spoke at length about the challenges he’s faced for years while running the Laurel diner, particularly with keeping it open 24 hours a day in a location that has been prone to crime. He also spoke about his refusal to ever allow it to be designated as a historic property, citing regulations that the City imposes on such properties, and how he believes it would only further hinder his ability to sell.
Despite his pleasant and courteous demeanor, I think Mr. Wilkes still views anyone interested in saving the diner as somehow impeding his right to sell it. I’ve tried to explain that this isn’t the case at all. He has more than earned the right to sell and retire. Pure Hana Synergy’s application to purchase it simply should’ve been negated long before it reached this point—and that has nothing to do with diner preservationists, but everything to do with the City’s own Municipal Code. We’re only interested in seeing the building relocated to Main Street, where a new owner can be incentivized to breathe new life into it.
As Saturday’s event showed beyond a doubt, there is an abundance of love for this diner; and with proper advertising and sustained community engagement, it clearly has tremendous potential for the Historic District. The City of Laurel should be exploring ways to purchase it, protect it, and give it the historic designation it deserves.
Based on his extensive experience in Laurel, Mr. Wilkes is correct on many points which reinforce his desire to sell the Laurel location. But by the same token, it’s unfair to measure the Laurel diner’s performance against that of his other locations in Bethesda and Silver Spring—areas that have nearly triple the population and more robust economies.
In the hands of a motivated new owner—an owner who will perhaps decide to limit the business to regular operating hours, consistently engage in public outreach efforts, (much like the highly-successful 29 Diner in Fairfax does) and take full advantage of the many preservation grants and incentives available to a historic location—this diner can positively thrive.
Join The Laurel History Boys Saturday morning, January 19th from 9:00 AM–12:00 PM at the Tastee Diner, as we hope to draw an an extra-large breakfast crowd of Save the Diner supporters! It will be the last weekend before the pivotal Board of Appeals meeting that will decide whether or not Pure Hana Synergy can purchase the site and convert it to a medical marijuana dispensary. That hearing is tentatively set for Thursday, January 24th at 7 PM at the Laurel Municipal Center.
While it’s expected that the Board of Appeals committee will uphold the ruling, Tastee Diner owner Gene Wilkes has made it clear that he still intends to sell the property. After nearly 43 years of operating the Laurel location, he’s earned the right to retire.
When Mr. Wilkes took over the diner in 1976, he technically saved it, himself. Had it not become part of his Tastee Diner chain when it did, there’s a very good chance that it wouldn’t have survived into the next decade. Much like Outrider’s Diner just up the street in North Laurel, it would have disappeared from the landscape before generations of Laurelites could enjoy its affordable fare and authentic 1950s ambiance.
As a way of saying thank you to Mr. Wilkes—and showing the City of Laurel that the diner remains a relevant and vital part of this town—we’re asking you to come out to the diner in force Saturday morning, January 19th.
Whether it’s just for a cup of coffee or a full-blown breakfast, please come support the diner and its hardworking staff. With over 2,300 petition signatures, we’ve already shown the City leaders that people want to save the diner. Now let’s show them in person, en masse.
With the Pure Hana deal out of the picture, this is the opportunity for the City of Laurel’s Community Redevelopment Authority to step in and make an offer for the property—or, at the very least, to negotiate a purchase of the diner itself—in order to relocate it to property that the City owns at 312 Main Street.
Adding the diner to the Historic District would bring long-term benefits the likes of which the CRA will probably never see again. Once it receives historic designation, the diner would qualify for state and county preservation grants, among other funding. The Maryland Main Street Program, which Laurel is now a part of, would provide further aide in this transition.
But most importantly, the City should, by now, see the economic potential that this diner would bring to Main Street. If they don’t, a large turnout with media coverage will make the picture even clearer.
Diner Appreciation Day Saturday, January 19, 2019 9 AM – 12 PM Tastee Diner Laurel 118 Washington Blvd.
Way back in 1977, just as I was getting ready to start kindergarten, my parents made the decision to move from Hyattsville to Laurel. I still remember helping my dad gas up the Pontiac as we set out to explore what would be my hometown for the next 20 years.
I know it’s cliché, but I’m amazed at how quickly those twenty years went by. I’m even more amazed—and frankly, a little terrified—at how quickly the next twenty flew by, as well.
I’ve now lived in Northern Virginia longer than I did in Laurel. Heck, I’ve almost been married now longer than I lived in Laurel. It’ll be 20 years in April.
For those who don’t know, my dad passed away on April 26th—my wedding anniversary, coincidentally. He’d been battling bladder cancer for about a year. It was already Stage 4 when they diagnosed him, and he’d had no previous symptoms or health issues in his nearly 78 years, despite a very sedentary lifestyle in the decades after his service in the U.S. Army.
Yesterday, nearly five months to the day he passed, my dad’s ashes were inurned at Arlington National Cemetery.
Bending the rules ever-so-slightly, our Arlington representative let me attach a miniature recliner chair ornament to his urn, which I know he would’ve gotten a kick out of. (I’m telling you—the man loved a comfortable recliner.)
The ceremony was awe-inspiring and humbling. And to have family and friends there to support us, as well as the thoughts and prayers of those who couldn’t attend—it was quite an experience.
I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my dad’s life recently. The theme that I keep coming back to is generosity. That’s who and what he was. We didn’t have a lot of money, mind you; but he was always giving—giving his time, or whatever he had to share.
He seemed to have an endless supply of Wrigley’s gum throughout the years, and he was never content to just offer you a stick of it—he’d insist that you take the remainder of the pack, “so you’ll have some for later.” I now make it a point to keep a constant supply of Wrigley’s gum on my desk at work, to share with my coworkers. Every time someone stops by for some, it’s a wonderful reminder of my dad.
A few years ago, a gentleman sent me a message here on Lost Laurel. He’d recognized my name, and recalled that he and my dad had worked together at an electrical supply warehouse in Northeast DC back in the early 1980s. When my dad learned that this fellow also lived in Laurel, he offered to give him a ride to and from work every day. But there was an important detail that he shared with me, which I’d never heard before. “I remember when we had to do the annual inventory one year that paid double-time, your dad was going to buy you a video game with the overtime pay. This was around 1981.”
That’s how I got my beloved Atari 2600. The fact that someone I’ve never met still remembers this seemingly insignificant moment over 35 years later, and was compelled to share it with me, speaks volumes about my dad. I’ll always treasure that story. And I’m grateful that I had the chance to relay it to my dad before he got sick, and to thank him not only for the Atari gift so long ago, but for all the giving he’d done.
Shortly before I embarked on the long drive to Holloway Funeral Home in Salisbury to pick up his urn on Wednesday, I thought about what else I can do to honor him. Pete Lewnes, one of my fellow Laurel History Boys, had been telling me about the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life that’s held every year in Laurel. Knowing what a tremendous help the American Cancer Society was to my parents throughout my dad’s ordeal, I decided to start a Laurel History Boys team—and now I’m looking forward to participating in the walk on June 8th. To raise money for a very good cause—in my dad’s name, and in our old hometown—is going to be a very special thing.
If you’d like to make even a small contribution, it would mean so much to me. If you’re local to the Laurel area and would like to join our team or volunteer in some other way, that would be just as welcomed. I encourage you to check out the Relay for Life site and learn more about this great event. It’s still several months away, so there’s plenty of time to spread the word.
Your generosity, much like my dad’s, will be remembered. Thank you.
I’m donating a personal walking tour of historic Main Street and a copy of my Lost Laurel book, which you’ll be able to bid on directly from the Laurel Historical Society’s Facebook page starting next Saturday, April 15th. All funds raised go to support the Laurel Museum. Even if you’re not able to attend the Gala, this is a chance to bid on the tour and help us raise funds.
Here are the details from LHS Executive Director, Lindsey Baker:
This year the Laurel Historical Society is expanding our Auction to the Facebook world!
We will be putting 1 item up for bid on Facebook a week prior to our Great Gala. That means you can bid from the comfort of your own home, at work, or on the go–anywhere you access Facebook!
Bidding will end the night of the Laurel Historical Society’s Great Gala at 10pm.
Bidding is simple, easy, and painless!
When we post the item up for bid, we will post a minimum bid and bid increments. If you’d like to bid, simply comment on the post with an amount in a bid increment higher than the previous comment. Same as you would on the bid sheets at the Gala, but instead it’s just a comment on the Facebook post.
The last person to comment before the auction ends at 10pm will win! We will use time stamps to determine the winner if it’s a close call.
Once we’ve picked the winner, we will let them know and ask for their email so we can complete the transaction privately.
WHAT ARE WE AUCTIONING OFF YOU MIGHT ASK?
A personal walking tour with Richard Friend, LHS Board Member who is known for Lost Laurel and the Laurel History Boys. The winner of the tour will be able to schedule a personal tour, length of their choosing, on Main Street. Richard will bring photos and stories about almost every block of Main Street covering the last 100+ years. And the winner will also receive a signed copy of the Lost Laurel book.
We’ll do our Auction Post a week from today, on April 15. Keep an eye out and as Jim McCeney loved to say, bid early and bid often!
I’ll meet the winner’s group at the Museum and we’ll walk the full length of Main Street and back, (or a shorter distance, if you’re not up for the full trek) and will share some little-known history behind the businesses and residences from the past century.
Block by block, I’ll show you where past businesses once existed, where notorious crimes and accidents occurred, and much more. Ever wonder which places on Main Street might actually be haunted … and why? Take the tour and find out!
I hope to see you at the Gala, and look forward to showing a whole other side of Main Street history soon!
When I decided to write a piece about the Stefanie Watson cold case back in 2012 to mark the 30th anniversary of this incredibly brutal, yet remarkably obscure crime, I didn’t expect much to come of it. I certainly didn’t expect P.G. County Homicide detectives to solve the case the following year; I didn’t expect the killer to still be alive to answer for the crime; I didn’t expect to meet and become friends with Stefanie’s family and other key participants in those events from 1982, and sit with them at the killer’s sentencing; and I definitely didn’t expect to play a part in bringing about an episode of On the Case with Paula Zahn, focusing on this tragic, but fascinating story.
But all of those things have indeed happened, and I’m excited to see the episode premiere Sunday night, 9/25 at 10p.m. on Investigation Discovery.
Not that long ago, Kevin Leonard, Pete Lewnes and I were having lunch at the Tastee Diner, discussing potential people to interview for our new Laurel History Boys project. Half-jokingly, I said, “How cool would it be to get all of the living ex-mayors of Laurel together, and film them reminiscing?”
Lo and behold, in what will be our very first public program, we’re getting ready to do just that.
I’m thrilled that each of the living former Mayors of Laurel—along with current Mayor Craig A. Moe—will be participating in a fun, informal roundtable discussion, reminiscing on their time in office.
Dani Duniho, who was Laurel’s first and only female mayor (from 1986-1990) was planning to join us via Skype from her home in Tuscon, Arizona. Unfortunately, she has some family commitments this weekend and won’t be able to join us live. However, Kevin spent a good deal of time with her on the phone, and she provided a wealth of anecdotes that he’ll be sharing. So she will still very much be part of the discussion.
Joining Mayor Moe at the table will be former mayors Robert DiPietro (1978-86), Joe Robison (1990-94), and Mike Leszcz (2001-02)—the latter being the only mayor in Laurel’s history to hold the office after the death of a sitting mayor, when he completed the second term of the late Frank Casula.
We’ve got some interesting questions for these guys, but the real fun will be seeing where the conversation goes when we turn them loose! Time permitting, the mayors will also be taking some questions from the audience.
This free event will be open to the public, and takes place tomorrow evening:
Saturday, December 12
Laurel Police Department Partnership Activity Center
811 Fifth Street
Pete will have a table set up displaying some of the vintage political pieces from his extensive collection, and we’ll also have some t-shirts, vintage posters, and Lost Laurel books for sale. (Perfect stocking stuffers!)
Come join us tomorrow night, and meet the Mayors of Laurel!
This past Thursday night, July 9th, I had the honor of giving a special presentation on the Stefanie Watson cold case, describing Lost Laurel‘s role in helping to reignite the investigation into the 30-year-old crime—which finally yielded an arrest. Nearly 33 years after her murder, the case is slated to go to trial next month.
The program was part of “The Rest of the Story: a series based on “Ripped from the Headlines, Laurel in the News”—the current exhibit at the Laurel Museum, which focuses on local and national stories and how they were covered locally. The Stefanie Watson case is one of the stories. The exhibit runs through December 21, 2015, and visitors to the exhibit can browse the Laurel Leader from 1897-2008.
Presented by the Laurel Historical Society and hosted by the Laurel Police Department at their beautiful Partnership Activity Center, a good turnout braved some heavy rains to hear the program—including Mayor Craig Moe and Chief of Police Rich McLaughlin. My thanks again to all who came out, especially in that weather.
The highlight for me was one special surprise attendee—Christy Torres, who made the drive from Pennsylvania. Chris is the cousin and best friend of Stefanie Watson; the same cousin who had the unfathomable task of reporting her missing back in 1982, when she failed to show up for their planned trip to Ocean City.
(Photo: Donnie Conty)
(Photo: Lindsey Baker)
I’d spoken to Chris at length on the phone and by email, but hadn’t met her until Thursday night. After the presentation, she said, “I have something for you,” and pulled out a beautiful, hand-carved wooden box. “This belonged to Stefanie.”
It’s an incredible gift that I will truly never forget, and it will always occupy a special place on my desk. Despite having never known her, Stefanie’s memory was never far from my mind, all these years. I’m happy that it will be even closer now.
For those who weren’t able to attend, the entire program was filmed, complete with a question and answer session. You can watch directly on the link above, or view it here on YouTube. I’ll also be focusing my next episode of Lost Laurel for Laurel TV on this story, where you’ll be able to see the aerial photos, maps, etc. that were used in the program in more detail.
(Photo: Laurel Leader, 7/1/82; Laurel Historical Society archives)
Laurel’s 4th of July Celebration in 1982 fell on July 3rd that year, which happened to be Stefanie Watson‘s final birthday—she’d go missing less than 3 weeks later. This banner, coincidentally, also faced her apartment on 8th Street.
Her tragic story is filled with some bizarre and amazing coincidences—join me tonight as I’ll share some fascinating information about one of Laurel’s most notorious cold cases, including some recent revelations that have never been published.
This free program is sponsored by the Laurel Historical Society, and is tonight, July 9 at 7 p.m. at the Laurel Police Department’s Partnership Activity Center, 811 Fifth Street.