Archive for March, 2005

Laurent Town Plan is on the web site!

Saturday, March 26th, 2005

What a week! The charrette actually came to an end. Everyone is very satisfied with the end product � the town plan of Laurent with residents of 2,500. The density can increase or decrease, allowing for more or less people in the same 1/2 square mile.

We’re just thankful. We’re tired. Plans and pictures are on the web site. It’s Saturday. I’m going to rest and play with my kids. :-)

Laurent Town Plan


End of the day two… Wow.

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

Charrette day 2 rolled to an end for us at midnight, and there are a couple of planners still working here. Most have gone to bed. We have seen some great site plan sketches whittled into 2 alternate plans that is being fleshed out in detail for tomorrow morning.

I will post some more images of the plans tomorrow morning. I’m just humbled and grateful for the planners and all participants working, dreaming and visualizing what’s to be in Laurent.

We also had a very exciting meeting with McCook County Commissioners with residents from the county as well. There were some concerned farmers who lives near Laurent. They brought to our attention the challenge that we will have to acknowledge and work on together. Farming is and can be noisy (not a problem for us deaf folks!), smelly, brings flies and some other problems. They were very concerned ��after all they have been there for years or even generations � that us new folks moving into the town will eventually complain of the nuisance the farming brings and sue them into oblivion. Also, some expressed genuine concern that Laurent may negatively impact the some of the businesses in Salem and other neighboring cities.

That was very educational and humbling experience for me � I left that meeting having really learned something. We’re committed to working together to address these concerns. We may not be able to solve every problem, but we will definitely be aware of them and find ways to minimize these impact.

At any rate, thank goodness for the charrette because it invites and seeks out public participation so we can try to work together and address the challenges.

Wish y’all were here, though. :-) We’ll put up some more pictures tomorrow.


The New York Times: “As Town for Deaf Takes Shape, Debate on Isolation Re-emerges”

Sunday, March 20th, 2005

The New York Times article.

Okay, ladies and gentlemen. We have hit the major leagues. Minneapolis Star Tribune was a huge step up, but now… The New York Times have run the story on building Laurent, South Dakota. I think the article was well-written considering the reporter did her homework, contacting the folks who probably will never agree that sign language has a benefit anywhere.

We’re now at Camp Lakodia. Folks from Nederveld Associates just arrived, and they are setting up the charrette center in the dining hall. We will have work stations, and a meeting table in the center. They also will set up a viewing gallery for you to come and look at after the first set of drawings are up.

We will be updating the site on a daily basis.



The Mitchell Daily Republic: Sign-language town: Deaf man works to build city from scratch

Saturday, March 19th, 2005

Friday, March 18, 2005

By Seth Tupper, The Daily Republic

SALEM - For somebody who doesn�t talk, Marvin Miller sure knows how to be heard.

The 33-year-old deaf man is attracting national attention with his effort to build a sign-language town at the Salem exit of Interstate 90. So far, he has won support from government officials, lined up investors to finance construction, and signed up 92 families to move in. He�s on the verge of building a city from scratch, and he�s done it all without uttering a word.

Miller uses an interpreter to communicate with non-signers, and he compensates for his lack of speech with an abundance of physical expression. His quick smile and sense of humor have eased his transition from outsider to local businessman in his temporary home at Salem, where he has won over many skeptics.

Now, with his sales pitch completed, Miller is at a critical juncture. He and his team will turn their dreams into designs at a master-planning workshop next week (see related story), and many deaf and hard-of-hearing people are counting on Miller to turn his talk - or signing, as it were - into action.

�Their feeling is, �Please don�t tease us if you can�t make it happen,� � he said.

Inspiration and frustration

Miller has always believed he can and will make it happen. He believes his purpose in life is to realize the goal he set about five years ago: building a town that deaf and hard-of-hearing people can call their own.

The idea crystallized while Miller was at a personal and professional crossroads. After co-founding a national newspaper called DeafNation, he sold out to a dot-com company and stayed on as chief content officer. But when the company suffered financial trouble, he was laid off.

With a wife, Jennifer, and four children, Miller moved from Las Vegas back to his native Michigan to live with relatives. While he was pondering his next move, he began thinking seriously about building a town for deaf people. He envisioned an immersive sign-language environment where communication problems would no longer stand in the way of business, social and civic opportunities.

He discussed the idea at length with his hearing mother-in-law, M.E. Barwacz, who would eventually become his business partner. She put him in touch with a college professor who had experience in philanthropy and city planning.

The professor was supportive. He told Miller to work hard and honestly and stay true to his vision; if he did, the professor said, people would follow his lead. The professor also gave Miller a book: �The Death and Life of Great American Cities.�

Reading the book was a transformative experience for Miller. He learned about the principles of New Urbanism, a philosophy of town planning that includes compact and �walkable� city blocks, multi-use buildings, houses with front porches and other elements designed to create a sense of community. He began to think New Urbanism was the perfect approach for building a close-knit community of signers.

Around the same time, Miller was becoming increasingly frustrated with the education system in Michigan. The state�s funding mechanism caused public schools to lose money if their deaf and hard-of-hearing students transferred to the state School for the Deaf, Miller said. Consequently, the School for the Deaf�s enrollment was declining while hundreds of potential deaf and hard-of-hearing students struggled in public schools.

Miller thought the children would be better served at the School for the Deaf. Interpreters at public schools are sometimes not as skilled in sign language, Miller said. As a consequence, deaf children at public schools do not always �hear� everything their teachers say. Additionally, public-schooled deaf children often suffer from feelings of isolation: Whenever they want to communicate with their hearing peers, they have to call over an adult interpreter. And the isolation can lead to lowered confidence and inadequate social skills.

Miller wanted to help move deaf and hard-of-hearing children into the School for the Deaf. But the state-run school, he said, was prohibited from promoting itself. He considered fighting for change, but he knew his efforts could be undone in instant. The school was at the mercy of non-signing bureaucrats and politicians.

�We were powerless to change anything,� Miller said.

Decision and action

So Miller decided to build a town where deaf and hard-of-hearing people could assume responsibility for their own lives and families. With support from his wife and help from Barwacz, he went to work.

His interest in South Dakota was inspired partly by the success of Communication Service for the Deaf, a Sioux Falls-based company with a national reach. His original plan was to convince CSD officials to help him build the town.

CSD leaders received Miller warmly and even employed him for about two years, but they were not ready to act on his idea. He decided to stay in South Dakota, because he was convinced the state�s low population would allow people in his town greater political influence. He also liked the tax structure and the opportunity to build along tourist-heavy Interstate 90.

He resigned his position at CSD and began working full-time on his dream in January of last year. He and Barwacz decided the town would be named Laurent, after Laurent Clerc, who brought sign language from France to the United States. They formed The Laurent Company, zeroed in on I-90 locations near Salem, and began networking.

They conducted a public meeting in Salem and informational meetings for deaf and hard-of-hearing people around the country. In November, Miller said, they connected with a �huge angel group of investors.� Backing from a Salem bank followed. They won support from the McCook County Commission despite concerns about Laurent�s potentially negative economic impact on Salem, the town of about 1,400 people located three miles north of the Laurent site.

But Miller�s personal skills helped ease the fears. At a second public meeting in Salem this year, nobody spoke out against the project. Miller and his family and Barwacz now live in Salem, and they and several employees have settled into an office on Main Street.

The Laurent Company currently has options to buy two parcels of land in the southeast corner of the I-90/U.S. Highway 81 intersection. The parcels total about 275 acres, and more land options are being pursued.

A Michigan firm has been hired to lead the master planning workshop beginning Sunday at CSD-owned Camp Lakodia near Madison. The Laurent Company will emerge next Saturday with a comprehensive set of drawings and detailed plans for its town, and Miller hopes to begin building in the fall.

Historic impact

If Miller�s dream comes true, it will be a historic achievement.

The town would be the first of its kind since a centuries-old community of signers on Martha�s Vineyard faded away in the 1950s. Laurent will be open to all people, both hearing and deaf, but plans call for sign-language to be used in every public place. Specialized emergency alert systems, high-tech videoconferencing systems and other signer-friendly components will be incorporated in the town�s design.

By living together in their own place, Miller said, signers will not become isolated. Instead, they will finally have full access to life. Signers, he hopes, will be politicians, police officers, entrepreneurs and more. As Miller wrote in his concept paper, Laurent could be a catalyst for deaf and hard-of-hearing people �to stop renting space on the stage of life.�

Eventually, Miller hopes to build more sign-language towns. He believes, as part of his Mormon faith, that he is fulfilling his purpose: He is building a place where he and others like him can finally be heard.

�I�ve always felt it strongly,� Miller said, �and I�ve had conversations with my heavenly father about what I wanted to do on this earth. And this is it.�

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Pioneer for the deaf plans to settle a new S.D. town

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

Pioneer for the deaf plans to settle a new S.D. town

The story ran front page today at Minneapolis Star Tribune, and we’re grateful for the coverage Laurent, South Dakota has received thus far. We’re fast approaching the Charrette this Sunday.

The first public presentation will be held this Monday at 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm at Camp Lakodia in Madison, South Dakota. (

See you there!


9 Days to Charrette!

Friday, March 11th, 2005

Things are getting VERY exciting around here in The Laurent Company’s office. We are nailing down final details for the charrette. These details including sleeping arrangements for participants. We have received confirmations from 12 out of state guests, 16 professionals for town planning, 5 or so from our company.

We are also working on final equipment needs including scanner, printer, LCD projectors, screens, and so on so we can have a real working charrette. The professionals will be working with SketchUp! software among other CAD stuff as well as hand drawing many of the renderings.

We’re very excited to see the vision fully fleshed out in pictures, site plan and more. This is a significant step towards building Laurent, South Dakota.


Pictures from Community Meeting last Tuesday

Friday, March 4th, 2005

The photos were taken by Deb Kuglitsch covering last Tuesday’s community meeting featuring Laurent Charrette presentation given by Terry Sanford. The goal of the meeting was to inform the local community on why we are having the charrette, and how the process is beneficial for everyone involved. We were very pleased with the excellent turnout that evening.


Estimated 160 to 180 people were in attendance for the Laurent Charrette presentation.


McCook County residents ask Terry Sanford, Charrette Leader of Nederveld Associates, Inc. some questions.


Marvin Miller answers some tough questions asked by Seth Tupper of The Mitchell Daily Republic. Monique Roberts interprets.


Greater McCook County Economic Development Alliance Director Joe Bartmann (right) chats with a local resident.


M.E. Barwacz (center) talks to Cherene Zapp of Zapp Hardware of Salem and Steve Schoenwald.


Argus Leader: Sign language town meetings scheduled

Friday, March 4th, 2005

Planners for new community seek input of area residents

MELANIE BRANDERT, published: 03/3/05

SALEM - Organizers of Laurent, a town for sign language users, will kickoff a weeklong process of meetings starting March 21.

The series of meetings, known as a charrette, will take place at Camp Lakodia near Madison and include the major stakeholders, such as utility companies, county and school boards, and state Department of Transportation representatives.

Open houses will be offered for area residents to weigh in on how the town should look as the design team creates and revises the plan. A final plan will be presented March 25 at a public forum.

“We want to make it accessible to everyone,” said Terry Sanford, planning director at Nederveld Associates in Grand Rapids, Mich. “I want people who don’t want it. I want people who do want it.”

Joe Bartmann, Greater McCook Development Alliance director, said the area already is seeing the project’s effects.

“This is a private investment in our county the likes to which we never have seen,” he said.

The town, which might be located south of Interstate 90 and Highway 81, is intended to serve as a traditional, walkable community reminiscent of the early 20th century, with civic buildings, schools, retail and other businesses and homes.

M. E. Barwacz and her son-in-law, Marvin Miller, serve as chief executive officer and chief operating officer of The Laurent Co. Both purchased homes in Salem and set up an office in the former King Koin Laundromat on Main Street that will have 12 workers.

Bob Natz, who designed the Washington Pavilion, also is working with town planners.

About 165 area residents and local officials attended a public meeting Tuesday night at the National Guard Armory in Salem.

Miller said the town could have as many as 2,500 residents. The land purchase and financing are being completed. Seventy-nine families are on the town’s reservation list.

Sanford said ground could be broken on the town this fall.

When asked what will keep future generations in Laurent, Miller said that if the town were labeled a deaf town, there would be a problem. But Laurent is for signers, whether they are hard of hearing or not.

“We have a very fascinating culture and history,” he said. “We have a rich set of values we perpetuate onto our children and children’s children.”

Glenda Blindert of Salem asked how the town would be rezoned from agricultural land.

Terry Tromp, Nederveld chief operating officer, said a new, traditional neighborhood-development zone would be formed. There would be public meetings with county commissioners, who also serve as planning and zoning officials. Then they would consider the rezoning request.

“We are looking for buildings with historical significance, built and designed to be timeless,” he said afterward. “When they are built, they are expected to be there for hundreds of years, and their use can change over time.”

After the meeting, Barney Roling and Thomas Lauck, who live near the proposed site, questioned whether nearby farms would be able to expand or coexist. Roling said current zoning states that livestock operations cannot be located within a half-mile of a city.

“You’ve got livestock all around the current location,” he said. “Most (neighbors) are younger families.”

Earlier Tuesday, planners discussed the town’s proposed look with county commissioners and officials at McCook Electric.

Tromp explained that a type of zoning known as form-based coding would provide more control in developing the town. For example, a McDonald’s restaurant may locate there, but a drive-through window might not fit the town’s model.

“There is a big difference between this process and a planned development,” he said. “When you do this zoning, you calibrate it locally. Maybe 50 percent glass is not a requirement. Maybe there is no vinyl siding on the front. Maybe it has to be stone, two stories or 20 feet high.”

Register of Deeds Laurie Schwans questioned the strict zoning requirements.

“It should be up to me as the owner to design,” she said. “All I see is control.”

Barwacz said the county’s other towns would not be required to follow Laurent’s zoning.

Brad Stiefvater, county emergency disaster services director, asked whether planners considered disaster-prevention measures. He noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has predisaster mitigation funds available.

“In the ’90s, we had three presidential disaster declarations,” Stiefvater said. “We need to make sure we have a disaster warning system in place. We need a plan to tie them to the dispatch center.”

Reach reporter Melanie Brandert at 977-3926

Mitchell Daily Republic: Laurent proposal gaining support

Friday, March 4th, 2005

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

By SETH TUPPER, The Daily Republic

SALEM - Judging by public comments, support is growing for a planned sign-language town in McCook County.

About 200 people attended a meeting Tuesday evening at the Salem National Guard Armory, and nobody spoke out against the impending construction of a town named �Laurent.�

Instead, audience members listened to town planner Terry Sanford discuss his agenda for a week-long master-planning workshop March 20-26.

Sanford, of Nederveld Associates Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich., was hired by The Laurent Company. He will lead the workshop March 20-26 at Camp Lakodia near Madison, and he hopes to emerge with a plan to begin construction next fall. The proposed site of the town is the south side of the Interstate 90/U.S. Highway 81 intersection, although The Laurent Company has not yet closed its land negotiations.

Marvin Miller, of Salem, the deaf visionary behind the project, said the land talks would be finalized before the week-long planning workshop begins.

�I have three kids here and a baby at home,� Miller told the audience. �I want them to live there before they get big.�

Miller spoke only in response to questions from the audience. Most of the meeting was conducted by Sanford, who conducted a presentation on the merits of the week-long planning session known as a �charrette.�

Sanford described the Laurent charrette as a collaborative process including his own team, the Laurent developers, representatives of state and local government, and other interested parties. He invited the public to attend and participate.

The Laurent project is thought to be the first effort of its kind since a community of signers in Connecticut faded away during the 1950s.

�It really is an event that has the potential to have a real historic impact,� Sanford said.

About 50 of the people at the meeting indicated, by a show of hands, that they will attend portions of the charrette. Their eagerness kept the meeting on a positive track, unlike the first Salem gathering hosted by The Laurent Company in January 2004.

At that first meeting, several people voiced opposition. They feared the new town would draw business away from Salem, which is located three miles north of Laurent�s potential site.

County Commissioner Ralph Dybdahl, who attended Tuesday�s meeting, said many of the early fears have subsided.

�People�s attitudes are a lot different than they were then,� he said. �I think it�s probably the result of more facts, figures, ideas, explanations and communication.�

The shift in attitudes is largely attributable to Miller and his hearing mother-in-law/business partner, M.E. Barwacz, also of Salem.

Miller was perhaps the most effective communicator at Tuesday�s meeting despite his reliance on a sign-language interpreter. He joked easily with the audience and elicited several rounds of laughter and applause.

19 Days to Charrette! New Office Opens Yesterday

Tuesday, March 1st, 2005


Time does fly when you’re rushing to have fun. Uh, I think that didn’t come out quite right. M.E. and my family have made our move to Salem successfully in beautiful, 40’s sunny weather on both days last week. That’s in February in South Dakota. We’re impressed.

We are settling in nicely. Our new office on Main Street in Salem has opened for business, sort of. Our new desks arrived last Friday. M.E., Jennifer Schiltz (executive assistant to CEO) and myself have ‘moved into’ our desks. Deb Kuglitsch will begin tomorrow ��she has moved in today.

The front of the office building will be redone with help of our architects, Koch, Hazard and Baltzer in Sioux Falls. We’re really grateful to Ed and Duane Pulse for all of their hard work on converting this old laundromat into a very nice office. The Laurent Company is renting this space from them.

The good folks of Nederveld Associates, Inc. are in town again for their third visit, and they have presented the Smart Code as an option for the county to adopt county-wide or not. The town of Laurent will be using Smart Code to regulate and codify its town plan.

Things are moving along!