A developer and Baltimore County officials are negotiating to preserve a hilltop mansion that's stood as a Towson landmark for at least 150 years.
The Presbyterian Home of Maryland announced in the spring plans to close its assisted-living center in the 19th-century mansion off West Chesapeake Avenue, which prompted neighbors to worry that the center's 4.4-acre property could be developed into townhouses.
The developer, Caves Valley Partners, said last week that it agreed to buy the property and plans to lease the mansion to Baltimore County government as offices. Caves Valley said it would preserve the mansion facade and lawn, which neighbors describe as an unofficial community park.
"Our theory is: Save the building as is, retrofit it for offices, leave the green space open," said Arthur Adler, a partner at Caves Valley. "Hopefully, everybody's happy."
County officials said they have been scouting office space in Towson for information technology employees, some of whom work out of the basement of the courthouse. County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said the mansion was the best site for expansion.
She said a lease price was being negotiated, and it was too soon to say how many employees might relocate.
The county's commercial real estate agent had scouted a number of properties in the downtown Towson vicinity, she said. "This appears that it would be the most affordable deal," Kobler said.
Sue Shea, Presbyterian Home CEO, said in a statement that the company, which has signed a tentative sales agreement with Caves Valley, looked for a buyer that would take all the issues into account. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
"We tried to take the historic significance of the property and the community's needs into account as much as possible," Shea said in the statement. "Of course, we do not control what the buyer will do with the property once they own it."
Paul Saleh, president of the Southland Hills Improvement Association, reserved judgment on the plan until he got more details. He noted the site offers limited parking, about 50 spaces.
"We need to know more about it," Saleh said. "We don't know if they're going to try and put 50 employees in that building or 500. We don't know."
Adler said he did not think the county's use would be "high-density."
County Councilman David Marks said he hoped the deal would preserve the mansion, with its white columns and a mansard-style roof. It was built by Dr. Grafton Bosley in the 1850s or 1860s — about the time Baltimore County was established as a separate jurisdiction from Baltimore City.
"I don't want it demolished," said Marks, a Republican who represents the area. "My interest all along was in preferably finding a local owner who would retain the historic nature of the building."
After Bosley's death in 1901, the mansion was owned by other families and, for a time, was known as the Offutt Estate before the Presbyterian Home of Maryland bought the property as a residence for elderly women in 1929.
In announcing its plans to close the center by the end of the year, the Presbyterian Home said it intends to build a larger retirement community in Harford County.
The Preservation Alliance of Baltimore County has submitted a request to county government to designate the mansion as a county landmark. That designation would preserve features of the mansion house but complicate any renovations needed to transform the interior into offices, Adler said.
"It would make it very difficult," he said. "I think the purpose of the landmark status was to preserve the structure, and we're willing to do that."
The Landmarks Preservation Commission is scheduled to meet Sept. 8 to consider the request for landmark status. If approved, the request would move to the County Council.
Adler said a deal with Baltimore County could be completed by next year.
"If everything goes great, we could own the property by the end of the year," he said. "The county could occupy in six to nine months — if all goes well."