A proposed land swap between Howard County and a developer could facilitate the development of the Settlement at Savage Mill, a 35-unit project near Savage Park.
The county is considering swapping 2.73 acres of parkland, already razed for sewer construction, for 2.77 acres of the developer's land in order to shift the development north and away from the Little Patuxent River in response to concerns from the community.
The planning board will consider the proposal, which passed several revisions over the last three years, on Thursday. Bozzuto Homes plans six single-family houses, 12 duplexes, 17 townhouses and five open space lots on around eight acres of land.
The county has not facilitated major parkland swaps with developers before, said John Byrd, director of the county's Department of Recreation and Parks. But the suggestion, originally pitched by residents in 2014 to protect environmental resources, creates "a better development," Byrd said.
Through the swap, the developer will install a pathway connecting to Savage Park and some open space will be rededicated to the county. The county has not determined future plans for the land, but it is highly likely the land will remain undisturbed, Byrd said.
"That's sort of the whole point. It's a better buffer between the river and the development," he said.
Plans for the project have morphed after collaboration between the community, the county and other stakeholders, resulting in a "better plan that is more environmentally sensitive," said Bobby Byrd, a development manager for Bozzuto. The developer also reduced the plan from 56 to 35 units.
"We're pleased with the outcome," Bobby Byrd said. "The development is pushed to the north as much as possible."
But some residents argue the land swap does not go far enough to protect environmental and historical resources the area's underlying zoning was designed to protect.
"The problem is that the settlement of Savage basically should be declared the unsettlement," said Stu Kohn, president of the Howard County Citizens Association.
Kohn said he objects to the development because adequate public infrastructure is not in place to handle the development's impact on schools, roads and public safety services.
"Bozzuto is basically getting [this land] for free. I don't know what the county gets from it. The land swap is not fair to other developers," he said.
Others questioned whether the land swap was the best deal for taxpayers. The county purchased the land through a fund run by the National Park Service.
Susan Garber, president of the Savage Community Association, a civic organization that aims to protect the historic area, said what she called the proposed "land swipe" overwhelmingly benefits the developer by giving the company additional developable land in exchange for land that the county can do little with. In return, the community loses parkland and faces a development even less compatible with the surrounding historic district, she said.
"It is unfair to put the planning board in the position of having to consider a development plan with key details about the conversion of parkland left unsettled," Garber said.
The Howard County Council and state and federal officials must also review the swap prior to approval. The project is the first in the county assigned to a zoning designation that aims to protect environmental resources in historic areas.
A preliminary environmental review of the plan by the state's Department of Natural Resources noted the project is an area that supports the Appalachian snaketail, an endangered dragonfly; and Laura's clubtail, another rare dragonfly.
The county's Department of Planning and Zoning recommended approval of the plan. In a March report, the department noted the plan protects the environment and complies with zoning regulations. The developer plans to clear 4.8 acres of forest, but most of the development is slated away from steep slopes, according to the report.
The planning board will consider the plan on Thursday, March 16 at 7 p.m. in the George Howard building in Ellicott City.