Park closer with swap

Owner offers trade for buildable lots in North Laurel

Could include ball fields

Deal would clear hurdle to securing a 25-acre site

November 04, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A long-awaited community park in North Laurel is moving closer to fruition, thanks to an unusual land swap due for introduction before the Howard County Council tomorrow night.

A private builder is willing to trade 11 small lots subdivided more than a century ago to the county for inclusion in the park in exchange for 12 lots nearby on which he can build homes.

If the swap is approved, county officials say they will need only a handful more of the small, heavily wooded lots to make the 25-acre community park a reality.

"We're on the verge of making this park happen," said County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a Democrat who represents the area.

Although relatively small, the park has long been a goal in North Laurel, community leaders said.

"Basically, there's a complete lack of community parks in the area," said Tom Flynn, president of the North Laurel Civic Association. His group has to pay the school board to meet at Laurel Woods Elementary School, just north of the land in question.

Earlier plans to develop land for High Ridge Park, farther west along the Patuxent River, have not worked out, county Recreation Director Gary Arthur said, because of restrictions on development next to the river.

The county and the community want more ball fields and perhaps a community/recreation center - something the new park, just south of Laurel Woods Elementary, would provide.

"The people in the greater North Laurel Park area really want a park," Flynn said.

Arthur said the park site is composed of 123 individual building lots subdivided on paper about 1890, but never built on. The lots were laid out on paper, but streets were not built, and some lots are in floodplains or streams and are not buildable. No one, county officials said, ever surveyed the land.

"I think it was just someone into the early stages of town planning," said Brian Boy, president of Cornerstone Homes, the firm building hundreds of single-family homes on lots in a development called Patuxent Ridge.

"Most of the lots are 50 feet wide by 150 feet deep," said Boy, who added that he helped the county by buying some parcels officials had trouble getting and then arranging to swap them. "They were owned by 60 to 70 different owners."

The old subdivided lots are not uncommon, say those who are familiar with them. "All along Route 1, you'll find old recorded subdivisions like that, some with 25-foot-wide lots," said Thomas Harris, a retired county planning director. U.S. 1 was the county's main street in 1890, Harris said, and people were preparing for Howard County's urban future.

Final negotiations

Arthur and county officials hope that with a few more purchases, the park land will be assembled and plans for park development can progress.

Tina Hackett, chief of the county's real estate division, said there are seven or eight owners yet to deal with, but she is hopeful of getting ownership of the remaining lots soon.

Still, government works slowly. Flynn has been hoping for a community park for the past decade.

Even when the land is bought and paid for, it still must be developed.

"That's been a big challenge and one of the things since Day 1 [in office] we've been trying to make happen," Guzzone said.

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