Mitchell Republic: Laurent plans on hold, developer says

Note from Marvin: The Laurent Company is still proceeding with our plans to build the town, and we are reviewing everything right now. It will be a week or so before we submit the application.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

By ROSS DOLAN, The Daily Republic

SALEM - The developer of a proposed town for sign language users in McCook County says a concern for good planning has kept her company from taking an alternative avenue for development.

M.E. Barwacz, CEO of the Laurent Company, said rumors that her company might try to avoid a planned development district - a type of planning recently adopted by McCook County that allows for mixed use development - were prompted by the fact that Laurent has not submitted an application for a PDD. She would not say if her company planned to submit such an application.

Instead, all plans are on hold, she said.

�We�re sitting here quietly and reviewing all our plans and options. We�ve always had the option to build Laurent by registering voters and incorporating,� she said. �The site � is already zoned commercial. We could build immediately and incorporate.�

Laurent would be a self-contained town designed to accommodate both the deaf and sign-language users. The town would be built from scratch in what is now farmland near the intersection of Interstate 90 and Highway 81.

Construction has been opposed by some who fear the proposed town will create competition for businesses in Salem, a town of 1,300 three miles to the north.

McCook Citizens United spokeswoman Martha Sherman wrote in her group�s published minutes that �We�ve heard that the Laurent Company may not apply for the PDD. They may just begin construction as allowed under commercial zoning.� MCU members also commented that the months-long development of the PDD development option was a waste of commissioners� time and taxpayer money if Laurent did not use the new code.

Sherman said a reporter told her that Laurent planned to pursue the commercial development path, but she had no further information to that effect. She said an Internet blog posted by Laurent COO Marvin Miller contradicted the report.

An Oct. 19 post by Miller on his blog site states that �It will be a few more days before The Laurent Company submits our application to rezone the property.�

Sherman said avoiding the PDD wouldn�t work for Laurent because the town also needs zoning for residential development.

�The densities aren�t what they want. They would need variances to proceed under the commercial regulations,� she said.

Sherman said MCU is �just waiting. There�s not a whole lot we can do.� If Laurent does apply for a PDD and commissioners approve the application, MCU would probably try to refer the matter to voters, she said.

Barwacz said Laurent is presently seeking input from advisers and other professionals on how to proceed. She said it was unlikely any building will be done this year.

To date, about 151 interested families have placed their names on a housing reservations list for Laurent, said Barwacz. While names, towns and states of applicants were placed on the Web site in the past, future applications will be confidential.

�Only the state will be listed,� she said. She said at least 20 businesses have contacted her company seeking details on the proposed town. �We have not asked them for specific information yet,� she said.

If the plan is launched, Laurent staffers will work to match related businesses to avoid initial competitive situations.

Joe Bartmann, executive director of the McCook County Development Alliance - a private, non-profit company that gets about a third of its funding from the county - said his organization is �currently in a wait-and-see mode.�

MCDA supports entrepreneurship by aiding those who wish to start businesses in McCook.

�We�re interested in economic gardening,� said Bartmann, who explained that MCDA helps would-be businessowners to create business and marketing plans and to secure funding.

He said his group will �jump in� when the Laurent construction process begins and help those who want to relocate to McCook County or Laurent. He said his office�s limited resources would restrict how much time it could dedicate to Laurent.

Bartmann also said that MCDA�s attempts to facilitate meetings between MCU and Laurent have had little success.

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