I’m excited to announce the arrival of a very special new project from the Laurel History Boys.
Voices of Laurel is a new kind of newspaper—a free, quarterly digital edition produced by a diverse range of contributors. It’s not a newspaper in the truest sense of the word, but rather a collection of articles about Laurel written by people from Laurel—history pieces, stories from first responders, hometown memories, profiles, and a whole lot more.
Kevin Leonard and I are producing this through the collaboration of dozens of others—a widely diverse range of writers and contributors who each bring a distinctive voice in their stories about our hometown. Current contributors include representatives from the Laurel Historical Society, Laurel Volunteer Fire and Police Departments, veteran staff from the Laurel Leader, and many more.
We hope you’ll enjoy it, and maybe even lend your voice to future issues! Let me know if you’re interested in becoming a part of it.
If you still live in the area, you’ve probably heard by now: all of the City of Laurel’s 150th Anniversary events that had been planned for the summer have been canceled, due to COVID-19 concerns. Sadly, and not surprisingly, this includes the Main Street Festival and 4th of July festivities. It also effectively ends the City’s “Passport to Rewards” program, which was only able to host three of the planned 36 events this year, before the pandemic arrived.
The Laurel History Boys were fortunate to be part of one of the Passport events that did take place back in February, but the remaining two programs that we had planned are postponed. At our “Laurel at 150” event at Partnership Hall, we presented Mayor Craig Moe with the very first copy of our new book—the aptly titled Laurel at 150. While our full supply of books was still en route, the printer had shipped a small number of advance copies, which folks were able to preview that night.
This certainly isn’t the way anyone could’ve envisioned 2020 playing out. Plans that the City had spent the better part of a year making—plans that would’ve seen a year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary—had to be put on hold, with the hopes that perhaps we can just do them all next year instead, when it’s safe to gather once again.
I’m both happy and proud that we were still able to produce the Laurel at 150 book before the shutdown kicked in. The full supply was only slightly delayed when it arrived in early April, and Kevin and I have worked diligently to pack, ship, and hand-deliver all of the pre-orders as quickly as we could.
The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s an added honor knowing that it’s ended up being the only tangible takeaway for the 150th anniversary—a fact that certainly isn’t lost on me, after learning that a planning committee member had dismissed the book idea as “not worth the time or trouble” last year. We knew it would indeed be worth it, and that it will become a lasting piece of Laurel history in its own right.
While we haven’t yet had the opportunity to sell the books in person at events, they are still available at laurelat150.com for $40 each via PayPal. Shipping is free.
As someone recently commented, “Now THAT’S how you celebrate an anniversary. It’s a wonderful way to experience our hometown’s rich history, especially while we’e all stuck at home this year.”
Ironically, this year has turned out to be a historic one in a way none of us could have ever foreseen. While we’re certainly glad we finished the book in time for Laurel’s 150th anniversary, it’s unfortunate that COVID-19 hit after it had already gone to print. News of the coronavirus and the City’s excellent response to it definitely would’ve made an important and timely final entry in the book.
Also, the pandemic effectively cancelled all of the City’s planned anniversary events—at least through the summer. This included the Main Street Festival, at which we were expecting to be able to sell books in person. Nonetheless, you can order them online atwww.laurelat150.com. Books are $40 each and shipping is free.
Kevin and I have caught up on the mailings—we had several hundred pre-orders to package up and ship ourselves, and doing so in the midst of the shutdown was no easy task. But seeing the overwhelmingly positive response from those who’ve received their books has been fantastic, and it just reinforces what we knew from the outset—that this was an important, worthwhile project and a lasting keepsake for Laurel’s 150th anniversary.
Laurel at 150: Celebrate Our History, Anticipate Our Future is a decade-by-decade visual journey through Laurel’s past—a collection of historical highlights covering the pre-1870s through the 2010s.
Written by Kevin Leonard, author of the popular “History Matters” column in the Laurel Leader, and designed by yours truly, this 200-plus page hardcover book promises to be a uniquely important addition to to the library of anyone interested in the history of this community.
Fifty years ago, the City of Laurel hastily produced a “Centennial Souvenir Booklet” to commemorate the 1970 event. I can vividly recall spending countless hours perusing that booklet during my time working at the Laurel Library. And all these years later, that booklet—for all its faults—remains the primary source of general historical information on our hometown. We’re honored to be creating what we believe will finally eclipse that publication as a thoroughly readable, enjoyable time capsule that will set the stage for the next fifty years and beyond.
This brief teaser video gives you an idea of what the book will be like:
In addition to the history section, you’ll notice that we’ve included an extensive, current directory of local civic organizations. Laurel has a long tradition of volunteerism, and this is a terrific way to acknowledge and promote the fantastic work these groups are doing to serve the greater Laurel community.
The Kickstarter campaign is critical for raising the funds needed to publish this important book. The beauty of crowdfunding is that in the process of reserving your copies of the book, you’re literally helping to get it printed. Without your help—and without meeting our minimum goal—it can’t be funded.
But the campaign is off to a tremendous start. With another 15 days to go, it’s already surpassed the 54% mark.
Everyone who pre-orders their books through Kickstarter will receive a printed credit in the acknowledgments. Plus, there are a number of different reward levels you can choose from.
You can also get a Postmark Laurel book for half price, and save when you pre-order multiple copies of Laurel at 150. If you’re planning to give books as gifts this holiday season, this is the perfect time to do so!
Here’s something else that makes this extra special. Because The Laurel History Boys are now officially a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, (EIN: 84-2682931) donations are tax deductible. There are a number of reward levels that will allow you to take advantage of this bonus, whether you simply want to donate to help fund the book, or if you wish to advertise your business or organization with an elegant ad in the book itself.
Please take a look at the Kickstarter campaign or all the details, and help us by reserving your copies now. The campaign ends on Friday, December 6th at 3PM, and it’s all or nothing—if we aren’t able to meet our minimum goal, we don’t receive any funding. But I’m confident that this project will exceed that goal, enabling us to increase the page count and make it even bigger and better!
Please don’t forget to share the link, too. If you have friends or family with even the slightest interest in Laurel history, they’re going to love it.
Likewise, if you own or know someone who owns a business or organization, please consider one of the tax-deductible sponsorship ads. It’s a unique opportunity to do something good by helping to get this book published; and you’ll get the long-term benefit of having your ad in this special book that will become part of Laurel’s history itself.
Postmark Laurel, my new 280-page hardcover anthology of historic postcards from our hometown, has finally been printed and is in stock!
I’ve completed mailings to all the Kickstarter campaign supporters who helped make it possible, and it’s wonderful hearing how well the book is being received.
Of course, no compliment was greater than seeing my mom’s reaction when she realized that the book was dedicated to her.
If you have family or friends with a longtime connection to Laurel, I’m sure they’re going to enjoy this book. The postcards span a range from the early 1900s to the 1990s, and feature many buildings, businesses, landmarks you’ll remember—and many you’ve probably never seen before.
Order yours now at postmarklaurel.com, and get it while you can—the short run supply is limited.
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!
Nearly five years ago, I launched a Kickstarter campaign that resulted in the successful publishing of my very first book—Lost Laurel. It was a tremendous experience; and the crowdfunding aspect allowed me to create a better product and make it available to a broader audience. In addition to selling the entire supply, I was able donate copies to Laurel High School and the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (where I worked throughout high school and college, shelving books!)
The book is a surprisingly diverse collection of over 120 different postcards from Laurel, dating from the early 1900s to the late 1980s, faithfully reproduced at full size—front and back.
In fact, the correspondence on some of the cards is often as charming as the cards themselves. Check out this one, and remember that it was mailed from laurel 110 years ago:
The Kickstarter campaign will help fund the printing and distribution of a first run of books, and it’s also a chance for you to have a part in its creation. As an early backer of the project, your name will appear printed in the book’s acknowledgments. There are also different pledge levels, in which you can not only purchase the book, but some of the original historic postcards themselves!
The campaign runs for 30 days, and is an all-or-nothing endeavor. So please make your pledges now, and share the link with friends and family to ensure that the minimum goal is met. If the goal is exceeded, I can upgrade the book—including making a hardcover edition.
If funded, all books should be printed and delivered by this July—plenty of time for Christmas gifts!
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.