Residents of the Savage community pitched a possible creative solution to concerns that a new development next to the Savage Mill would disrupt the area's forested calm at a presubmission community meeting Tuesday night.
They suggested that developer Bozzuto Homes, which hopes to build a townhouse community called The Settlement at Savage Mill on a 5-acre lot near Terrapin Adventures, exchange its plot for county-owned park land just north of the property.
The park land, already razed to accommodate construction of a sewer system, would prevent further clearing of the area's forest and would keep development farther away from the Little Patuxent River, residents said.
But Duncan Slidell, vice president of development for Bozzuto Homes, said that while he was receptive to the suggestion, he wasn't sure that logistically it could work.
"We have (the property next to Terrapin Adventures) under contract, it's moving forward, and there's a timeframe associated with it," he told the group of about 30 people who attended the meeting.
Slidell said the park land wasn't zoned for residential development and that the process to get the zoning changed and the land transferred, if it's possible, would likely cut into the profitability of the project. Outside of the once-a-decade comprehensive zoning process, zoning changes have to be justified by proving a change to the area or mistake in awarding a zoning designation.
Plans for the development, the first in the county assigned a new historic/environmental residential designation, are starting to take shape. The meeting represented the beginning of the project's development application process.
Current plans for the development show 35 residences -- some townhouses and some duplexes -- as well as an open space section that would offer some sort of recreational area for the community, whether it's a dog park or a patch of trees, according to Slidell.
Plans show a retaining wall at the bottom of the property that would separate the development from the Little Patuxent River, to the south.
But some community members questioned whether the current plans do enough to protect what they called an environmentally sensitive, peaceful site.
"This property was given a brand-new zone , Residential: Historic/Environmental District. It is supposed to put special, special attention on preserving the environment and preserving the historic pathways," Savage Community Association President Susan Garber said. "You have to look at it differently."
The R-HED district was created during the comprehensive zoning process last year in response to Savage community members' requests to grant the site additional protections.
One point of concern was the percentage of trees that would have to be cleared to build on the site, which, due to drainage requirements, would also need to be graded in some areas.
Slidell said he couldn't guarantee the majority of trees on the site wouldn't be cut down. He said he wanted to be open with the community to avoid confusion and false expectations.
"I’m trying to set the expectation that I don’t know that I can save every tree," Slidell said. But, "what I’m saying is, we’re not going to cut down any more trees than we need to cut down." He offered to take community members on a walk-through of the site to discuss which trees might remain once he had a better understanding of construction needs.
North Laurel resident Brent Loveless said he was concerned about the potential for school overcrowding. He also worried the architecture of the town houses wouldn't be compatible with Savage's historic mill-worker's homes.
"We, the community, have a very vested interest in making sure (the architecture) is compatible with the historic district," he said.
"You have attractive homes down there," Loveless added, referring to Bozzuto's other developments at Maple Lawn and Shipley's Grant, "but if they were just plopped right here, they would not match this architecture."
Slidell said Bozzuto was "very concerned" with the architecture and would be working with an historic architect consultant. Though no designs have yet been prepared, he said he expected architects would mimic the mill houses' building materials and would not use vinyl siding.
"We’ll try and match the existing architecture to the extent we can, and we’ll look for your feedback, honestly," he told the community.
Now that a presubmission community meeting has been held, Bozzuto Homes can submit its environmental concept plan to the county's Department of Planning and Zoning for feedback. The plan will work its way through the Design Advisory Panel, the Planning Board and another public hearing before it gains final approval.