Part One of this series addressed “the big shock” users of the Patuxent Branch Trail received. Until the historic home was raised and mature trees were stripped from the property at the Guilford entrance to the beloved trail– no one– no citizen, no trail user, no local Council Member knew anything about it. However they learned that the plan to build a four story self-storage building had been under DPZ review for two years. From my perspective, this “out of the blue shock” is analogous to the shock one feels upon losing a loved one to a fatal medical condition of which they were unaware or they had hidden from you. The sudden finality of the situation is crushing.
In Part Two we explored in greater depth the all too predictable, frequently given excuses to which activists—and anyone paying attention– are subjected. Over development was mentioned as a common foe and two new activist groups were formed in the Southeast in a week’s time. For those who learned the cornfield at Gorman and Leishear Roads was to become a development of 375+ homes (with inadequate schools and roads to support the development) their experience will be quite different.
And now Part Three of Deja Poo
Today we will head southeast along the Patuxent Branch Trail to Historic Savage where residents are having a very different development experience than those in King’s Contrivance bordering the Guilford section of the trail.
In Savage we have had FIVE agonizing years so far to dread the proposed ‘Settlement at Savage Mill’ (S@SM) development next to the Mill’s upper parking lot. Just imagine how many times we’ve heard the same poo….
From my personal perspective this has been far too much like learning a loved one has a fatal form of cancer. Cognitively, you know he will eventually be taken from you, but you cling to the hope that the next procedure, or the next, may put things in remission, may give you more time. You continue to pray for a cure, for a miracle to save what is dear to you. You try to brace yourself against the terrible emotional blow, the loss you know is coming. For Savage it is more than the loss of trees and park land, it is the loss of the serenity of the trail along the river, of the viewshed, of the dragonflies and eagles and songbirds and various creatures who frequent the area. It is also the loss of our history and roots, of our identity as a slightly old fashioned, small-town place.
Savage residents first learned about the S@SM in March of 2013 as part of the Comprehensive rezoning process.We aggressively, but unsuccessfully opposed rezoning for a high density urban project and have actively attempted to lessen its impact ever since. What started as a proposal for townhouses grew to include duplexes and single family units. There is nothing inherently wrong with that change in housing types—except it apparently necessitates almost 3 acres of flat, partially cleared land in Savage Park to be “swapped” for the developer’s steep slopes……. while mysteriously increasing the area of disturbance—along with the size of the houses!
This appears to be the first time that Howard County is prepared to “convert” federally funded park land for use by a private developer. Once the precedent is set I suspect EVERY developer will want a similar deal. It provides the developer an access road (since the original parcel is landlocked) as well as space for a large storm water retention pond to serve half the development, and lest we forget, the ability to import density!
Compared with the Milk Producer’s Co-op proposed development, S@SM’s 35 units may seem like small-ball, but it is clearly not insignificant. The land the developer has under contract is a 5 acre, fully wooded parcel on a bluff above steep slopes to the Little Patuxent. It sits at the highest point in the town and is only accessible through the residential streets of the Savage National Historic District.
The Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources has identified the parcel as a Targeted Ecological Area (TEA), the “Best of the Best” for preservation and home to one each state-listed endangered, rare, and threatened species. The Savage Park land which is sought is also a TEA. Howard County’s own Department of Community Sustainability identifies both as part of the Green Infrastructure Network of crucial hubs and corridors. Members of the Patuxent River Commission have identified the health of the Little Patuxent as a D- (due largely to increased siltation resulting from over-development) and have serious concerns about the proposed development’s further denigration of the Little Patuxent.
The zoning on the original parcel calls for minimal clearing and grading. However, the HC Planning Board approved the plan to clear 6 acres of forest (all but one specimen tree) and total regrading, including the actual creation of steep slopes to support SWM and private roads. No wonder the State ranks HoCo Number One in forest removal for FY 09-16!!!
But Howard County’s Administration seems to ignore these environmental factors as well as the town’s role in the Industrial Revolution. Earlier mills in Savage pre-date by many decades the one you see today. The existing tourist attraction was constructed in the early 19th century to produce cotton duck, but unlike other mills, it went on to also produce the equipment necessary for other cotton mills to be outfitted. Property adjoining the development parcel was once owned by resident Commodore Joshua Barney of American Revolution and War of 1812 fame. (In addition to his brave war effort, he commissioned the flag which flew over Ft. McHenry when the British attacked Baltimore, inspiring what was to become our National Anthem.) Rather than prohibit or properly regulate development in such an area, the administration is instead facilitating it, including permitting of new houses in the National Historic District!
While Savage’s historic district has mostly 2-story homes on half acre and quarter acre lots (on roads), the four identical rows* of 4-story brick red townhouses designed to look like ‘mini-mills’ will loom above the river and trail at a density of 10 units per acre (on alleys). *To be completely accurate, one row has 5 units. That 5th sits on erodible soils and is within ‘window peaking’ distance of Terrapin Adventures elevated bungee jumping platform……but the priority, after all, is about getting the desired number of total units.
Since 2014 the Savage community has endured 3 Pre-submission meetings, 2 Historic Preservation Commission reviews, 3 Design Advisory Panel reviews, 5 Planning Board sessions totaling over 16 ½ hours over 9 months time. There have been numerous additional meetings with DPZ staff and leadership, the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board and leadership, the County Executive and Chief of Staff, members of the County Council, the consultants from Clarion Associates, and on May 10, 2018 we’ll address the Environmental Sustainability Board at Robinson’s Nature Center. Lots of deja poo about ‘development rights’ and the shortcomings of our existing zoning and development regulations, but little positive progress to save this environmentally and historically sensitive area.
The County Council can stop the madness by rejecting the Executive’s legislation to permit the swap when it is filed. At that point the developer will have the ability to return to their own 5 acres and try again, hopefully with the realization that the land simply can’t support 35 units. If the Council approves the swap, the next step in the decision making process falls on the MD DNR, and then ultimately the National Park Service.
Perhaps you’d like to urge them all to Stop the Swap and to Say NO to Houses on Parkland.
Remember: Today Savage’s Park. Tomorrow Yours?
Send your e-mails to those listed below and meet me on the high road—because some things are worth fighting for,
Joel_lynch@nps.gov (that’s an underscore between first and last name)
For more details: StopTheSwap.weebly.com
Follow: Protect Howard County Woods and Parks https://www.facebook.com/groups/463047500756980/