Argus Leader: Sign language town meetings scheduled

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

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