The church that owns a shuttered and dilapidated rooming house in Butchers Hill that's worried neighbors for years has put the property on the market.
The Rev. Ivan Dornic, pastor of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church, a small Eastern Rite Catholic parish that worships in Harford County, said the church decided to sell the property rather than attempt to renovate it.
The property on South Patterson Park Avenue across from Patterson Park once was known as St. John's Assisted Living, but fell into disrepair after the state suspended the assisted-living license. Dornic then turned it into an unlicensed rooming house. The city shut it down in May.
It's now on the market for $1.5 million. Meanwhile, the city took action this week in Baltimore Circuit Court to help ensure the property goes to a developer who can fix it.
The site is about one-quarter of an acre, and the existing building, built in 1940, is almost 14,000 square feet, according to state property records. Its assessed value for tax purposes is $926,600.
"We are tired of fighting the city," said Dornic, who said he believes officials are discriminating against his operations because he and his church are Eastern European. City officials instead point to the facility's poor condition and lack of a permit.
Dornic said making the decision to sell was "very hard." The church plans to invest the proceeds from the St. John's sale on property it owns in Joppa.
The listing for the St. John's property promotes it as the first opportunity in more than 80 years to build new parkfront homes in the neighborhood.
Misha Guy, the real estate agent who is handling the sale, said he estimates seven to 12 single-family rowhouses could be built on the site, depending on the size and configuration.
"We've had a lot of interest, mostly from local developers who want to put single-family residences there," Guy said.
The existing building would need to be razed for redevelopment.
Neighbors who had been inside the building in recent years described it as dark, smelly and unsafe. The city shut down the three-story brick building in May after finding the fire alarm system didn't work and that it lacked a permit to be used as housing.
City Councilman Zeke Cohen, who represents the neighborhood, said he was glad to see the property listed for sale.
"I think it's wise of him to decide to dispose of the building," Cohen said. "I also think it's a win for our community."
Residents and park supporters have worked hard to improve the community, and it was frustrating to have a blighted property, Cohen said.
Andrew Crummey, president of the Butchers Hill Association, said in a statement that neighbors are "guardedly optimistic" the property can be sold to a residential developer or an assisted-living operator who can improve it.
"The current dilapidated and unsafe condition of the property is unacceptable and time is of the essence in resolving it," Crummey wrote.
Dornic opened an assisted-living facility in the building in the 1980s. In 2015, state health officials suspended the assisted-living license after finding numerous violations, including not having sufficient or properly trained staff, inadequately caring for patients' health and safety, and failing to maintain the building.
After the loss of the state assisted-living license, Dornic converted the property into a rooming house, though city officials say he did not have a permit to do so. When the city shut down the property in May, 26 people and four dogs were displaced.
The city slapped a $900 fine on the church in July for missing a deadline to obtain a use and occupancy permit for the St. John's property.
Officials with Baltimore Housing went to court Wednesday to begin receivership proceedings on the property, said Tania Baker, an agency spokeswoman.
That process could force a sale of the property if the church doesn't convince a judge that it can bring the property into compliance with city code or sell it to an owner who will. The city took the action even though officials were aware the property is being marketed for sale.
"Just because someone lists a property for sale doesn't mean it's going to sell," said Katy Byrne, the deputy assistant commissioner of housing for litigation.
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Also, she added, it doesn't mean the property would be sold to a buyer who can repair or redevelop the property to the city's satisfaction.
Once Baltimore Housing initiates receivership proceedings on a property, the property will be flagged so that a deed cannot be recorded without the approval of the court.
Byrne said it's common for owners to list their properties for sale when receivership is imminent. Often, she said, a judge may give the property owner a deadline for finding an appropriate buyer on their own before appointing a third-party receiver to auction the property.
Guy said that's what he hopes will happen with the St. John's property.
If the property does go to auction, the profit from the sale would cover the receiver's fee and pay off any debts, including any debts owed to the city. The church could get any money left over.