After 15 years of renting and borrowing space for meetings in Columbia, Savage and Laurel, the members of the Howard County-based Patmos Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons are poised to return to their roots in Ellicott City, with a new lodge of their own.
The fraternal organization, which was first chartered in 1822 and had its lodge in the same building in Historic Ellicott City for almost a century before selling it in 1997, was verbally granted a conditional use to build a new lodge on a residential property off Route 108 by county hearing examiner Michele LeFaivre on Monday, March 19.
The 1.8-acre property, which the organization has a contract to purchase, is near the intersection of Route 108 and Centennial Lane, and is immediately next to the Iron Bridge Wine Company, though otherwise surrounded by other residential lots. A single-family home and another out building would be removed from the property under the deal.
Fraternal organizations are an accepted conditional use for residential properties in the county, but must receive approval for that use.
Though final building plans are not completed, the Masons have indicated they would like to build an almost 5,800-square-feet lodge — 20 feet high, 50 feet wide and 115 feet long — with basement storage space, 58 parking spaces and trees and fencing around the perimeter of the property.
S. Brent Morris, the lodge's senior warden, told LeFaivre the organization "designed the building with as large a footprint on the property as we could get" — in part to keep their options open in future planning phases — but has no intention of building a lodge that is out of line with what already has been discussed with neighbors in the nearby Beaverbrook community.
"It's a modest building in simple colors that we think would blend well with our neighbors," said Morris, a former Beaverbrook resident himself who now lives in Laurel. "We have no interest in building something that would stand out."
Two neighbors who spoke before LeFaivre in support of the lodge expressed appreciation for the organization's efforts to work with them on the project, including their hosting an informal meeting about the project with the Beaverbrook Community Association.
Jim Citro, whose property borders the proposed lodge property to the south, called the Masons' proposal the "best use of the property" possible, considering other forms of commercial development that have come to the area in recent years.
"I feel the gentlemen of the Freemasons are honorable guys and will keep their promises," Citro said.
Janice Sklar, another adjacent neighbor, said she agreed with Citro that the Masons would make "wonderful neighbors" who would build an "established, well-managed facility" on the property as opposed to more commercial development.
Morris said his organization would have meetings of 15 to 20 members at the lodge twice monthly, as well as smaller gatherings of leadership members and new members learning customs and traditions. The group would also likely have two or three larger meetings of about 40 to 50 members per year, such as its annual installation of new officers and a "Ladies' Night" for members and their spouses.
Members may want to "cook hamburgers on a summer night" outside every once in a while, but would otherwise conduct meetings and other events inside, Morris said.
In all, the organization has 180 members, including about a dozen new, younger members in their thirties. About 90 members live outside of Maryland, and only about 30 or 40 live in Howard County, Morris said.
"We meet primarily because we enjoy each other's company," Morris said of the nature of the organization, noting members also provide one another "moral support" and work on charity initiatives.
Freemasonry, which Morris said has records of its existence dating back as early as 1390 in England and as early as 1733 in Maryland, is "of a religious nature," but is not a religion and urges its members to honor their own religions, according to the lodge's website.
There are 110 Mason lodges and about 16,700 organization members in Maryland, Morris said.
'A tremendously dangerous road'
LeFaivre granted approval for the conditional use, which won't be official until she issues her written ruling in coming weeks, under the condition that the organization hire a "traffic coordinator" — perhaps an off-duty police officer, she said — during larger events, to help people negotiate traffic coming onto and off Route 108.
She also supported Morris's stated intention to gate or close off the lodge's parking to the public.