Roland Park Place is attempting to sell an old church next to its property — the same church it tried to tear down for parking five years ago against strenuous objections by residents who live in the area.
"I don't know that we've had any serious offers of late," said Teresa Snyder, president of Roland Park Place, a continuing care retirement community. The church, which was built in 1889 and closed in 1999 due to declining membership, is said to be solid, but needs to be renovated and restored inside, Snyder said.
"It's a unique property," she said. "It will take a visionary buyer."
It's also unclear what else the church could be used for, after Baltimore City rewrites its comprehensive zoning code. Laurie Feinberg, the city's director of comprehensive rezoning, said it is recommended to go from R-7 to R-5, a lower-density residential zoning. Feinberg said an exception could be made for conditional neighborhood commercial reuse of the church, as the computer company Chesapeake Systems did when it purchased the lightning-damaged Mount Vernon United Methodist Church in Hampden and converted it to the company's headquarters in 2011.
Snyder said she is waiting for the city to finish its long-awaited comprehensive zoning rewrite before moving forward with plans to sell the property. She is hoping the church can be used commercially.
"It would give prospective buyers more opportunities," she said.
In the meantime, Roland Park Place is also seeking community support to lay gravel for a temporary, 16-space parking lot behind the 150-seat stone church at the corner of 40th Street and Roland Avenue.
The church first opened its doors as Roland Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church. It later changed its name to Roland Avenue-Evergreen United Methodist Church. It ultimately merged with Woodberry Methodist Church and Otterbein Memorial United Methodist Church, and became Good Shepherd United Methodist Church.
Roland Park Place purchased the church for $330,000 in 2001. It is not designated as a historic landmark, either by the city or the federal government, said Snyder and Bridget Forney Deise, a Roland Park Place spokeswoman.
For Roland Park Place, the purchase was a proactive move "to control the corner," Snyder said. "We have very little opportunity for expansion."
Roland Park Place, located across the street from the Rotunda mall, has limited options for overflow parking and has leased spaces in the Rotunda parking lots in recent years for its employees and for special events, like brunches for seniors and their families. Its employees also have parked on Elm Avenue, alongside the mall. Now, with the Rotunda being redeveloped and its front parking lot ripped up, Roland Park Place is strapped for parking, Snyder said.
In 2009, the newly formed Rolden Community Association successfully fought Roland Park Place's plan to create more parking by demolishing the church in the 4000 block of Roland Avenue. The Roland Park Civic League wasn't receptive to the plan, either.
The Baltimore City Council would have had to amend Roland Park Place's planned unit development in order to build the additional parking on Roland Avenue, but Rolden, a small community in the 4000-4001 blocks of Roland Avenue, opposed a PUD amendment, saying building parking would wreak havoc on a street that includes row houses, stores and the Elmhurst Nursery School.
Snyder at the time cited a "compelling need for a long-term solution" to the parking problem, which she said has caused Roland Park Place to cancel some programs for seniors.
"I can see that you're between a rock and hard place," said then-civic league board member Chris McSherry, who is now president of the league.
Earlier this month, Deise presented plans for the temporary parking lot to the civic league, which voted to endorse the plans if the Rolden Community Association does.
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke would have to introduce a bill authorizing the use of the property for temporary parking, Snyder said.
Tracy Collins, vice president of the Rolden association, said last week, "We're still in the information-gathering phase," looking at issues ranging from what hours the temporary lot would be used to what the entrance and exit would be. An alley runs from 40th Street to the back of the church. Collins said the association had just received answers to some questions and was in the process of scheduling a meeting to discuss the plan.
In related news, Roland Park Place has sold a nearby house that it also owns on the same block as the church. The buyer, Erek Dixon, 34, manages Roland Park Liquors across the street.
"I'm a big fan of living where I work," said Dixon, currently of Mount Washington. He wishes he could buy the church too, but said, "It's going to be a big job" to renovate it. "You've got to have some deep pockets."
"I love that church," he said, adding that he is glad Roland Park Place is "not going to sit on it."
When asked if he supports temporary parking behind the church, Dixon said, "I'm OK with it. I just don't want them to do what they were going to do initially."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun