Laurent, SD in Deafweekly
Editor: Tom Willard
An item in the very first issue of Deafweekly reported on the efforts to create the town of Laurent, S.D. We have continued to report of developments over the past two years. It now seems that the project has come to a standstill. While miracles may still happen, it presently does not look as if Laurent, S.D. will be built after all. In requiem, this page of Laurent coverage in Deafweekly has been prepared to show the rise and fall of the project.
I am investigating the possibility of writing a book about Laurent, S.D. I would be very interested in hearing from anyone involved in the project and would definitely like to talk with people who signed up to live there. Please send me an email if you have anything you'd like to share.
PLANS UNDERWAY FOR SIGNING TOWN IN SOUTH DAKOTA
Activists working to create a new town in South Dakota for sign-language users have dropped their plans to locate at the Salem interchange on Interstate 90 and are now looking at sites at the Bridgewater and Canistota interchanges, both in McCook County. Progress on the fledgling town, to be called Laurent, was reported in the Oct. 11 Argus Leader of Sioux Falls. Laurent Co. co-founders M.E. Barwacz and Marvin Miller will decide soon about conducting a meeting on the town’s master plan in November or late winter. Miller wrote in an online journal of the need to raise $300,000 to cover initial costs. One of the biggest obstacles, Barwacz said, was skepticism expressed by those who don’t believe the town can be built. But several families, representing nearly 150 adults and children, have already reserved a home in the proposed town.
PROPOSED SIGNING TOWN CONTINUES TO MAKE PROGRESS
Progress continues to be made on Laurent, the proposed town in South Dakota for signers. Organizers Marvin Miller and M.E. Barwacz, writing in the Dec. issue of The Laurent Town Crier, said, “We cannot stress enough that the town of Laurent WILL be built. It will be a reality soon.” The coming year will see groundbreaking, construction and possibly even the first residents moving in, they said. Do not wait if you want a home or business in the town, they advised: “Get started now.”
PLANNING MEETING SET FOR PROPOSED TOWN IN SOUTH DAKOTA
Organizers of the proposed “signing town” of Laurent, S.D. met with McCook County commissioners last week, and M.E. Barwacz said, “We’re ready to build the town.” She and co-organizer Marvin Miller, her son-in-law, will host a week-long planning meeting March 20-27 at Camp Lakodia in Madison. According to the Argus Leader, they hope the meeting will lead to groundbreaking this summer and construction of the first few homes before the end of the year. The Laurent Co. plans to open an office in Salem with a staff of eight to 10 employees, including a full-time interpreter. Plans for the 640-acre town began in fall 2003 and include gas stations, a hotel, retails stores, a bilingual school, parks, churches and art venues.
ORGANIZERS OF PROPOSED SIGNING TOWN CHOOSE TOWN-PLANNING FIRM
More progress has been made by organizers of the proposed signing town of Laurent, S.D. Coordinators Marvin Miller and M.E. Barwacz reported last week that the Laurent Company has chosen Nederveld Associates to be its town-planning firm. Nederveld will lead a week-long planning meeting, called a charrette, March 20-27 at Camp Lakodia in Madison, S.D. Meanwhile, the Laurent Company has signed a lease for two office spaces on Main St. in Salem, which is 3-6 miles from two potential sites for the new town. They expect to move in by March 1 and will be hiring senior members of the management team over the next two months. “All in all, we’re very pleased with the progress we have been making,” they said.
N.Y. TIMES REPORTS ON PROPOSED SIGNING TOWN IN SOUTH DAKOTA
The New York Times did a story Monday on the proposed sign-language-centered town of Laurent, South Dakota. Planners, architects and future residents are gathering this week to go over blueprints for the town, to be named after 1800s French educator Laurent Clerc. The town will be designed so that deaf residents are fully integrated, and nearly 100 families have already declared their intention to live there. Developers Marvin Miller and M.E. Barwacz expect to break ground by the fall. But some question the need for such a town, saying such "isolation" has gone out of fashion. "We think there is a greater benefit for people to be part of the whole world," said Todd Houston, executive director of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Washington.
PROPOSED SIGNING TOWN IN SOUTH DAKOTA FACES CRITICISM
Until now it has been smooth sailing for Laurent, the proposed town for signing people to be built near Sioux Falls, S.D. But the Argus Leader reported Sunday that opposition has sprung up among neighbors of the planned town. A group of concerned citizens met April 16 in Salem farmer Jim McGregor's garage to discuss Laurent and the impact it could have on the area. Opponents fear residents of the new town will not accept rural life without complaint (there are 13,000 cows within three miles) and doubt that Laurent can support a public school district on 275 acres. One of Laurent's co-founders, M.E. Barwacz, said she was expecting such complaints to surface. "I think the issue here is fear ... fear of change, distrust," she said. Martha Sherman, who co-owns a campground, said, "It has nothing to do with the fact people who are moving in are deaf." As for why the critics are just now emerging, she said, "A lot of us thought it was so crazy, it was going to disappear."
WAVE OF PUBLICITY ADDS TO RESERVATION LIST FOR LAURENT, S.D.
More than 100 families have reserved space in Laurent, S.D. after a worldwide wave of publicity in March. According to Marvin Miller, co-organizer of the proposed town for sign language users, 108 reservations forms have arrived representing 166 adults and 109 children. "We are pleased and excited to have new future neighbors!" he said in a recent newsletter. The publicity wave began when the Minneapolis Star ran a story March 14 on a weeklong meeting to design the town. The New York Times sent a reporter out for an interview, and her story was picked up by about 170 newspapers worldwide. In addition, a People magazine reporter visited for three days, with her story was set for the May 2 issue. "We were bombarded with media requests!" Miller said, and the inquiries have kept his five-member staff busy in the office they recently opened in Salem. The Laurent Company's website contains drawings of the town plans and pictures from the weeklong charrette, as well as a proposed construction schedule. Check it out at www.LaurentSD.com.
PEOPLE MAGAZINE PRINTS LETTER CALLING TOWN FOUNDER 'DEAF AND DUMB'
In response to an article on the proposed signing town of Laurent, S.D., People Magazine printed a letter last week from Deborah Gideon of Pepper Pike, Ohio. Noting that her own deaf child "lives in the world of the hearing," Gideon said that town co-founder Marvin Miller "gives new meaning to the expression 'deaf and dumb.' " The National Association of the Deaf responded with a quick news release titled "NAD Condemns People Magazine." NAD President Andrew Lange said the term "deaf and dumb" was an "insensitive, insulting and archaic term ... that has been viewed by the deaf community as extremely offensive, negative and derogatory." He urged individuals to make their feelings known to People magazine through a link on the NAD website: www.nad.org/peopleaction. Another page -- www.nad.org/deafanddumb -- contains more information on the controversial term.
PLANNING COMMISSION DISCUSSES PROPOSED SIGNING TOWN
Members of the McCook County (S.D.) Planning Commission met yesterday to discuss the proposed signing town of Laurent, but could not agree to recommend to county commissioners a zoning ordinance that would allow construction of the town. They will meet again in two weeks to revisit the issue, reported the Argus Leader. Commission members also heard a report from Joe Bartmann, Greater McCook Development Alliance director, who discussed the potential economic effect on the area, including possible effects on education, local government, taxes and agriculture. Town planners hope to break ground in the fall, with the first phase completed by 2008.
ZONING OF PROPOSED SIGN-LANGUAGE TOWN HITS A SNAG
Zoning for the proposed sign-language town of Laurent, S.D. hit a snag last week when the McCook County Planning Commission voted not to proceed with the first reading of an ordinance that would allow the town to be developed. An opponent group, McCook Citizens United, showed up with proposed changes to the ordinance, the Argus Leader reported, and commissioners decided to review the proposals before moving forward with the project. The last-minute maneuvering left Laurent co-founder M.E. Barwacz frustrated, but board chairman Marc Dick, who broke a 2-2 tie by voting against the motion to move forward, said, "These are changes proposed by the people you are going to have to live by." The planning commission will take up the issue again at its meeting next week.
PLANNING COMMISSION GIVES GO-AHEAD TO ORDINANCE READING
The McCook County (S.D.) Planning Commission gave the go-ahead yesterday for the first reading of a zoning ordinance to allow the construction of the proposed signing town of Laurent. According to the Aberdeen News, the first reading of the ordinance has been scheduled for July 19. The ordinance is needed because McCook County's current zoning does not allow a new town to be built. Planning and zoning administrator John Knox said the county wants to preserve farmland while embracing the economic growth a new town could bring. "As opposed to having hundreds of acreages out there, we have a huge tax base built in to 260, 270 acres that doesn't interfere with the farmland," he said.
GOVERNOR OF SOUTH DAKOTA WEIGHS IN ON TOWN PROJECT
Gov. Mike Rounds of South Dakota declined to say whether he supported or opposed the proposed sign-language town of Laurent, but said that individual development projects should not be subjected to referendums. Speaking at a school in Canistota, 10 miles from the proposed site, Rounds said the time for referendums is when local zoning laws are being created or modified. Once the laws are in place, he said, developers should be able to comply with them and move forward without fearing a public vote on their project. According to the Mitchell Daily Republic, Rounds also said the people involved with Laurent should be treated fairly. "If they believe that the town could survive economically, then they should have the opportunity to explore it, to follow the rules and the guidelines that are currently in place, and have an opportunity to try," he said.
VOTE ON ZONING ORDINANCE FOR LAURENT, S.D. DELAYED TWO WEEKS
A final vote on a zoning ordinance that would allow construction of the proposed town for sign-language users of Laurent, S.D. was delayed last week after farmers spoke out against the ordinance. According to the Aberdeen American News, attorney Todd Epp says land use is the issue. "The fact that they want to put this proposed community smack-dab in the middle of highly productive animal agriculture is befuddling to the folks I represent," he said. Dairy farmer Jim McGregor agreed. "Every time you mix people and agriculture, it causes problems," he said. The McCook County Commission delayed final action for two weeks to make sure the land is properly zoned. "We're frustrated by the lack of progress," said Laurent co-founder Marvin Miller. "But I understand that the wheels of democracy, they don't always move quickly."
SOUTH DAKOTA TOWN MOVES CLOSER TO REALITY
The proposed town of Laurent, S.D. moved a step closer to reality last week when the McCook County (S.D.) commissioners unanimously approved a new zoning ordinance after five months of debate. It doesn't mean planners of the sign-language community won't face opposition, reported the Argus Leader. "We have to leave it up to residents to say whether they want a new town in the county," said Martha Sherman of McCook Citizens United. The town's co-founders, Marvin Miller and M.E. Barwacz, will apply to have the commercial property rezoned and will submit a full application when the new ordinance takes effect Oct. 13. "We hope to sit down with them and address their concerns," said Miller.
LAURENT PLANNERS NOW ACCEPTING PRIVATE RESERVATIONS
Until now, people who are planning to live in the proposed sign-language town of Laurent, S.D. were required to put their names out publicly on the company's website (www.LaurentSD.com). Last week, co-founders Marvin Miller and M.E. Barwacz announced in the Laurent Town Crier that they are now accepting private reservations. The early pioneers who allowed their names to be posted were "awesome and courageous," they wrote, and "have probably been our very best marketing tool." People who prefer to keep their plans private are now invited to send in a reservation form. Only their state or country will appear on the website. To date, there are about 150 families on the reservation list, including 80 school-age children.
NEWSPAPER NOTES ‘SLOWER PACE’ TO BUILD TOWN
It has been six weeks since a zoning ordinance took effect that will allow the proposed sign-language town of Laurent, S.D. to be built, but the town’s co-founders have yet to submit a rezoning application. “The slower pace to build the town is a virtual about-face from the momentum and enthusiasm” of earlier in the year, noted the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. Laurent Co. CEO M.E. Barwacz said company officials were looking at their options, but would not elaborate. “We have no timeline” on a groundbreaking date, she said. Ralph Dybdahl, a member of the McCook County planning commission, said town organizers might be waiting for the next construction season. “There’s not much you can do this time of year,” he said.
LAURENT TOWN PLANNERS WORKING BEHIND THE SCENES
“Things have been busy at The Laurent Company recently,” said Marvin Miller and M.E. Barwacz, leaders of the effort to establish a town for sign-language users in South Dakota. Writing in the January issue of the Laurent Town Crier, they said they hope to add more people to the staff soon in order to stay in better touch with the community. They’ve also agreed to work with Sioux Falls photographer Cedric Chatterley to document the building of the new town, and have signed a contract with IWC Media, an award-winning documentary group. In addition, a “local man who supports us strongly” has set up a website (www.mccook4laurent.com) which is unaffiliated with The Laurent Company but contains a wealth of helpful information. A second site, www.onemccook.com, features information that will be helpful to anyone planning to move to the area, said Barwacz.
FUNDING FOR LAURENT LAND PURCHASE ON HOLD
The land that will be used to build the South Dakota signing town of Laurent has not been purchased, reported The Daily Republic, because funding from anonymous investors is still on hold. “When the funds are actually disbursed,” said The Laurent Company co-owner M.E. Barwacz, “we will go ahead and purchase the land.” She could not offer an estimate of when that would occur. While they wait, Laurent Company employees are keeping busy with a non-profit, tax-exempt organization called the Laurent Institute. “We’re looking at writing some grants and doing different things with that,” said Barwacz. Meanwhile, a group opposed to the town, McCook Citizens United, is in a holding pattern, said member Martha Sherman. “There’s nothing we can do until they actually buy property,” she said.
‘LAURENT’ TOWN PLANNERS CLOSE OFFICE
Efforts to build a town for sign language users in South Dakota suffered a setback this week when organizers had to close their office in Salem. “We simply did not have enough funds coming in to support the overhead of an office,” said Marvin Miller, who will continue to oversee operations from an office at his home. He said all operations will be conducted under The Laurent Institute, a non-profit organization, while The Laurent Company will remain inactive for now. “Despite the changes and challenges we face,” he wrote on his blog (www.laurentsd.com/laurentblog), “we remain absolutely optimistic about our future as a signing community and I know that we will yet build that town."
LAURENT TOWN PLANNERS SAID TO BE $600,000 IN DEBT
KSFY in Sioux Falls, S.D. reported last week that organizers of the proposed sign-language town of Laurent are nearly $600,000 in debt. Laurent’s largest creditor is the firm that developed the town’s master plan and documents show the group’s only real asset is a list of people willing to live there. The Laurent Company’s store front in Salem is now empty, and executive director Marvin Miller runs the project as a nonprofit from his home. According to Miller, an unnamed prospective donor, said to be able to donate millions, has not come through. He and M.E. Barwacz, his mother-in-law, are now looking for other funding. McCook County Commissioner Marc Dick said he’s run out of patience. “We were pushed pretty hard to get our zoning completed and then it has come to a complete stand-still,” said Dick. Miller’s blog (www.laurentsd.com/laurentblog) promises “an alternative which is exciting." He told KSFY, “We’re going to do this, exactly how, I’m not sure.”
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