Mission Helpers' plan to sell Towson tract takes some by surprise

Elected officials and community leaders in Towson said they were stunned on July 12 by the announcement that Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart plans to sell its 4.5-acre property on West Joppa Road in Towson.

Fifth District Councilman David Marks said he had been taken by surprise by the announcement, and in fact hadn't been contacted by anyone from Mission Helpers as of Monday, July 16, to discuss the matter.

"They have a right to develop the property," said Marks, whose district includes Towson, "but my experience generally has been that development proceeds much more smoothly when you involve the community or County Council member who is impacted."

But reached by phone Monday, Sister. Elizabeth Langmead, vice president of Mission Helpers, a Roman Catholic order,said the community was not informed of the decision to sell earlier because of the preliminary nature of discussions.

But once buyers become involved, she said, the order will consult the community.

"We are a part of this community, and have been since the early 1920s," she said.

Mission Helpers, which moved to the property on West Joppa Road from Biddle Street in downtown Baltimore 90 years ago, initially owned 64 acres in West Towson.

Through the years, parcels were sold for various uses, with the final handful of acres housing the order's two-story Mission Helpers Center, which serves as the hub of its outreach activities.

In its announcement, the order said it decided to sell the tract, "after a comprehensive review of its financial situation" and in consultation with the National Religious Retirement Office.

Though care for retired members of the order was not specifically mentioned in the release, officials said they were preparing for a "new phase of presence and ministerial service within the church and society," and that "the mission and the care of elderly and infirm sisters were the paramount concerns and animated all the decisions."

News of the potential sale piqued interest among neighbors and officials, including state Sen. Jim Brochin (Dist. 42), who called Marks on Friday to discuss the issue.

"I'm not a councilman, but when I got elected, one of my pledges was that I would do everything I could to protect as much open space as possible," Brochin said.

Brochin said he sees the space as an opportunity for county government, which is hard-up for space for schools and recreation fields. But first and foremost, he suggested the land have its zoning density reduced.

The property is zoned DR-2, which allows for two residential units per acre.

Marks said that's already a low density, and since the property was not raised as an issue during the ongoing Comprehensive Zoning Map Process, the zoning cannot be changed for another four years.

Josh Glikin, past president and current board member for the West Towson Neighborhood Association, said the board hasn't had a chance to discuss the announcement to sell, but they're "obviously concerned."

"It's a beautiful, large plot of land that sits in our neighborhood," he said. "Nobody knows what their intentions are. Nobody knows if there are potential buyers and what that buyer would want to do. "

Glikin said that now that the news is out, "we would love to take part in or have some sort of meaningful discussion with whoever it is who's in charge of selling it."

"I would suspect that it's in the best interest of the seller to want to meet with us and get us involved with the process now," Glikin said.

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