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At the County Executive’s Town Hall Meeting on May 3 he indicated that the Savage Park land swap “….might not happen.”  While I was elated by this ray of hope, he, like many county employee’s, can’t resist blaming the community for the situation. They are in fact echoing exactly the version the developer has wanted them to buy in to, without considering the facts.

Laying To Rest the Howard County & Developer Defense That The Community Asked for The Swap.”

  • The current land swap proposal bears no similarity to the swap originally proposed by residents. We asked for A swap to be considered to protect the Little Patuxent, not THE swap presented as a result of discussions between the developer and HoCo– without the community in the loop.
  •        Sketch of initial swap plan showing development moved significantly north and east

     

  • The current land swap proposal bears no resemblance to the original proposal from the development project manager’s draft. While the first plan showed movement north, half the depth of the Mill parking lot, currently the development ends just 2 car lengths from the southern boundary of the Mill parking lot.  The southernmost house has only moved 30 feet north, but Savage Park stands to lose almost 3 acres in the ‘exchange’.
  • The developer ignored the community’s request to consider a swap and submitted their Environmental Concept Plan (ECP 14-029) on 4/2/14.  That plan ‘assumed’ HoCo would give the developer the public land needed for an access road and for 3 stormwater features to handle runoff from that road.
  •  The land swap was only considered by the developer after it was clear that the County could not just give the public land needed for access to the landlocked parcel since the adjoining parkland had been purchased with federal Land and Water Conservation Funds.
  • With ECP 14-029 the developer faced the high expense of constructing an underground storm water cistern and a 17 foot high wall running some 400 feet to support the massive quantities of imported fill necessary to elevate houses to achieve proper flow to the connecting sewer line.
  • In June 2015 a second plan, involving a swap was assigned ECP 15-023 by DPZ.
  • The Community’s original land swap request (made before we were informed that the parkland involved federal monies) assumed rezoning of the parkland to R-H-ED to match that of the developer’s.  This would have distributed the units equally across the newly defined site rather than jamming 29 units into 2.9 acres and 6 into another almost 3 acres.
  • Despite the R-H-ED zone’s mandate to preserve trees and limit disturbance ALL plans submitted were essentially the same and have necessitated the clearing of at least 5 acres—more acreage than the original contract purchase!  Regrading of ALL the land was also required. (Inexplicably the Planning Board in November  2017 approved the proposal despite the huge discrepancy between MINIMAL clearing and grading and TOTAL clearing and grading.)
  • The footprint of the project has not been mitigated; it has in fact grown, as has the amount of impervious surfaces due to increasing the size of all housing units.
  • Trading of the non-contiguous, steeply sloping forest conservation area along the river does not add usable recreational space to the park and is certainly not of equal market value with flat buildable land.
  • The developer and DRP have presented NO objective evidence that the proposed swap will provide additional protection to the river (the entire point of swapping)!*
  • The overall impact on the established community:
    • destruction of a Targeted Ecological Area which includes Rare, Threatened, and Endangered species
    • an incompatible urban development partially within a National Historic District at a density far exceeding surrounding properties.
    • degradation of the peaceful view shed of the river and trail below due to the developer’s insistence on 4 story townhouses closest to the river
    • requires the loss of almost 3 acres of much-in-demand public parkland
    • future taxpayer expense to mitigate sediment in the river and repair to the inevitable erosion of the paved access to the river from the west.
  • The proposed swap is a clear WIN for the developer and a LOSS for citizens. The developer now has more land at their disposal than was originally under contract. They have the added advantage of higher-profit single family units and increased size for all units.  Incompatible housing types and density within the historic community still prevails.
  • The developer tries to argue that he has already reduced the number of units he is ‘permitted’.   A MAXIMUM of 35 units was already clearly defined by Covenants (October 3, 2013) between the developer and the community that was created at the request of the County Council. A maximum is just that, a maximum, not a guarantee. The County should not have continued to allow the developer to hand pick lands being swapped to assure that the  maximum could be achieved.

It certainly appears that the County is giving away public land that increases the profit of a builder who optioned a landlocked parcel in an environmentally and historically sensitive area and expected “business as usual” from DPZ.

The County Administration needs to be cognizant of how people beyond the Savage community will look at what results, since the Savage Park and the Savage National Historic District attract people from throughout the County and beyond.  Will they ask “Why did the County ever let this happen?”

The Administration (from the County Executive to employees of DPZ, DRP, and other Departments participating in the Subdivision Review Committee) should ask themselves “Is this something we want to hold up as the best we can do?”

The time to stop the madness is now!  THE EXECUTIVE should NOT put forward and THE COUNCIL should NOT approve legislation to allow the swapping of federally funded park land without:

  • objective, scientific data to prove it provides significant additional protection to the environmental and historic features and
  • proof that both the recreational and market values of the properties involved are equal.

*Note:

  • It’s the opinion of members of the Patuxent River Commission and an employee of the Fish and Wildlife Service (who walked the site and compared the original no swap plan with the swap plan) that the swap plan will be even MORE damaging to the Patuxent River watershed, especially from sedimentation down the steepest slope on the West side.
  • Regarding equivalent value: Perhaps the President of the Maryland Association of Appraisers said it best with “….”if the two properties are of equal value, then there would be no need to trade.”

HoCo should confine the developer to the land he continues to have under contract and for which he already has an ‘approved’ ECP.  In development of the Preliminary Sketch Plan for that Savage Mill Remainder parcel, the developer and DPZ staff should use everything which has been learned during the development of SP 15-023:

  • STRICT adherence to DNR’s recommendations for any building in a Targeted Ecological Area with Rare, Threatened, and Endangered species should be enforced.
  • Roads and SWM must come from the developer’s land, with access through the owner’s property.
  • Without a requirement for a loop road, there is no need to strip the southern border, thus leaving a natural screening and stabilizing soil.
  • Since R-H-ED’s intent is to minimize clearing and grading, the number of housing units practicable must be re-evaluated so there is not total regrading and stripping of the parcel.

It is the job of County government to FAIRLY REGULATE development, not FACILITATE it by selectively enforcing regulations. A re-write of our development regulations cannot come soon enough!

Stop this horrible swapping precedent from being set–and meet me on the high road,

Susan