Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young on Thursday requested several city agencies prepare reports about a zoning bill introduced to the council this week that would allow a former Catholic school to be turned into a convalescent home for homeless people.
Project PLASE (People Lacking Ample Shelter and Employment), a 30-year-old nonprofit headquartered in Charles North, has offered $1.4 million for the former St. Joseph's Monastery school buildings in the 3500 block of Old Frederick Road in Southwest Baltimore. The school was closed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 2010.
On Monday, Baltimore City Councilwoman Helen Holton introduced a bill requesting a "special use variance" for the lot, and the request was referred to the Land Use and Transportation Committee. Passage of the zoning legislation is the only significant hurdle PLASE has to jump before the lot's purchase can be completed.
Holton originally introduced the zoning bill in August but withdrew it after several hostile community meetings, when neighbors raised concern about a homeless services organization moving into the neighborhood.
After PLASE — along with members of the St. Joseph's congregation, which cannot afford to maintain the empty school buildings — lobbied the community for several months this fall and winter, Holton felt there was enough support in the community to reintroduce the bill, said Mary Slicher, the group's executive director and co-founder.
To complete the sale, the lot's zoning needs to be adjusted to allow for "the establishment, maintenance, and operation of a convalescent, nursing, and rest home," according to council records.
Thursday, Young's office requested that reports on the proposed zoning change be filed in early April by the city solicitor and the fire, health, transportation and housing departments. The planning commission and municipal and zoning appeals board have also been asked to filed reports by mid-June.
If the zoning variance is approved, PLASE plans to spend $6 million on renovations.
The group wants to create 60 "transitional" apartments, where people could live for two to 12 months while they used the group's services — GED classes, job counselors, addiction specialists — to develop more stable lives. The school also would house 30 permanent apartments. Case managers would help residents stay on track.
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