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No need to raze church on shopping center site, residents say

Developer, neighbors disagree on whether dilapidated structure is worth saving

By Larry Perl, lperl@tribune.com

11:23 AM EDT, October 15, 2013

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A 122-year-old stone church in the Remington area could face demolition to make way for a Walmart loading dock as part of the planned 25th Street Station shopping center.

Area residents are concerned that WV Urban Development, which plans to build the center with Walmart as the anchor, seems determined to tear down the structure at 24th and Sisson streets in the small Fawcett neighborhood. The long-vacant church was built in 1891 as First Methodist Episcopal Church, an extension mission church for Lovely Lane United Methodist at 220 St. Paul St.

"I see no reason why that church needs to be torn down," Cross, who lives three blocks from the church, told the Baltimore City Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel on Oct. 10.

As plans stand now, the church and its cinder block addition would be razed and its stones would become part of a retaining wall that the developer would build around the perimeter of the project at 24th and Sisson streets. The stones in the wall would "remind us of what was here," said Old Goucher resident Kelly Cross, a supporter of the church, who toured the site with a reporter Oct. 14.

Cross and other supporters of saving the church argue that the developer made plans to raze it several years ago, when Lowe's was expected to be co-anchor of the shopping center. At that time, plans called for the site of the church to be a Lowe's loading dock, to be built below grade. But Lowe's has since pulled out of the project and church supporters say Walmart's loading dock could be built at grade elsewhere on the shopping center site.

"It's not necessary now (to raze the church), because Lowe's is no longer there," said Old Goucher resident John Viles.

Jon Laria, an attorney representing the development team, told the UDARP panel that the city has approved tearing down the church.

Cross after the meeting accused the developer of indifference to a part of the neighborhood's history.

"They don't feel like revisiting it, even if it would make it a better project," he said.

But Laria and project manager Caroline Paff said after the meeting that the church isn't worth saving.

"It's in deplorable condition," and sits in what is now a contractor's storage yard, Laria said.

"We fully understand that it's in the eye of the beholder," Paff said.

"It's got a really good roof," said Joan Floyd, president of the Remington Neighborhood Alliance.

"If you see old pictures, it's a really beautiful, charming little structure," Cross said. "The stone work is in great shape. The interior would obviously have to be totally rehabbed."

For Cross, 34, the church is symbolic of an area that is in the midst of a revitalization. Cross and his husband, Mateusz Rozanski, are renovating their 6,000-square-foot, double-wide row house with high ceilings, nine bedrooms and 12 fireplaces in the 2300 block of Maryland Avenue and they say an investment banker has purchased a house at the end of their block.

"There's a lot of energy in the neighborhood," Cross said.

He said the church is a bad site for a loading dock that would face a row of houses that overlook 24th Street at Sisson.

"We're not opposed to the Walmart per se — and certainly not to development. God knows we need it," Cross said. "We just want it to be done well."