Latest auction of vacant Armacost Nursing Home in Towson raises same concerns as 2006

Vacant since 2005, the former Armacost Nursing Home property in Idlewylde will be put on the auction block once again, on Saturday, Oct. 22.

Parkville-based Auction Brokers will start the bidding at 10 a.m. on the site of the more than 7,590-square-foot, two-story structure, built about 90 years ago, at 812 Regester Ave., on the northwest corner of Regester and Sherwood Road.

For the Phelan brothers, Charlie, Mike and Paul, who own the .39-acre property, the auction is a disappointing outcome for their family project.

First Mariner Bank had a lien on the property when it was first auctioned on Sept. 14, 2006, for $230,000, an amount considered surprisingly low at the time.

The top bidder in 2006 was Robert Edwards, a minister from Baltimore-based Power of Prayertime Ministries, but First Mariner had to approve the purchase — and the deal fell through.

Ultimately, Parkville surveyor Charlie Phelan paid Mariner Bank $275,000 for the deteriorating property after it was auctioned.

He partnered with his brothers, Paul, a mortgage broker who also lives in Parkville, and Mike, a resident of Parkton who runs Phelan Construction, to transform the structure into an assisted living facility.

That concept had the blessing of the neighborhood, but the Phelans say they were done in by the economy.

"We had $600,000 to $800,000 in equity, we all had 800 credit scores, which is as good as you can get," Mike Phelan said. But even after they had invested another $275,000 of their own money and succeeded in getting the rezoning they needed from the county, "we couldn't get the financing," he said.

"They bail out the banks and big corporations while small businesses are dropping like flies," Mike Phelan said.

Cynthia Jabs, a member of the Idlewylde Community Association board, said she was sorry to hear the brothers had to back away from the project.

"They were great to work with," she said. "We put a lot of time into working out a plan that was good for the neighborhood."

Now, once again, the future of the property is unknown.

"We have concerns," said association president Tom Latanzi, who said the association would give its full support to a buyer who would continue restoring it as an assisted-living facility.

Auction Brokers spokesman Richard Gasparotti said most of the interest the auction has generated has been from buyers who would use the building for assisted living.

The property is now zoned for assisted living, thanks to the Phelan brothers' efforts, "but I've been telling people there are other legal uses, and they should contact county zoning about that," Gasparotti said.

"I'm sure the owners have a price the winning bid would need to meet before they would sell," he said. "I can only hope it does sell."

But just as some residents would liked to have seen a buyer in 2006 tear the building down and replace it with three residences, there are neighbors who feel that way today.

And Carolyn Cecil, who lives on the next block, is one of a few people who would like to see the lot transformed into a park. She'd settle for three houses if she had to, Cecil said, but "I wish the county would buy it and make it a lovely green area for the community, with benches and beautiful trees and flowers and maybe something to commemorate the history of the area.

"I think the residents of Idlewylde would deeply appreciate that."

Latanzi said he didn't think the property was big enough for a park.

"Anyway, no matter what we want, it's all wishful thinking," he said. "There's not going to be a buyer of that property who is going to say, 'Hey, guys, what do you think?'

"We'll just have to watch carefully to see what happens."

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