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Demolition on the old Sterling-Ashton-Schwab Funeral Home, located at 736 Edmondson Aven. in Catonsville, began Oct. 17.
Demolition on the old Sterling-Ashton-Schwab Funeral Home, located at 736 Edmondson Aven. in Catonsville, began Oct. 17. (Courtesy of Tom Quirk / Baltimore Sun)

The former Sterling-Ashton-Schwab Funeral Home on Edmondson Avenue was razed earlier this month, catching some residents off guard after plans for a townhouse development on the property had stalled.

Catonsville residents were not given notice of the demolition, which began Oct. 17, and it was “quite a surprise to me,” said Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents southwestern Baltimore County.

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The impression in the broader Catonsville community was that “nothing would happen until we had further conversations” about the proposal, the Oella Democrat said.

That proposal has been shelved while the developer explores options for an age-targeted housing complex after opposition to its potential impact on traffic congestion and school capacity.

“I know people are attached to it,” said the Rev. Martin Eppard, who owns the property, “but I didn’t really didn’t expect that kind of an outcry."

After plans to raze the building were discussed publicly last year during community input meetings on a development proposal for the 6.1-acre plot of land, “Everybody knew it was coming down,” Eppard said.

The wooden Italianate-style mansion was built in 1878, and passed down through generations of the wealthy family of Gustavus Gieske, before being sold to the Sterling family in 1963, which operated a funeral home there until the early 2000s, according to documents prepared by architectural historians with EHT Traceries, Inc.

When Eppard bought the property in 2012, he hoped to renovate the deteriorating building into a usable facility for the Good Shepherd Church and his Charismatic Episcopal congregation.

The concept plan for 736 Edmondson Ave., proposed to county planners late last year, was to raze the old funeral home and, through a partnership between the church and Glen Burnie-based Craftsmen Developers, develop the property into 30 residential homes and a new church facility there.

Those plans, however, have since been shelved, said Conor Gilligan, vice president of land management for Craftsmen Developers.

A revised proposal would include plans for age-restricted housing for homeowners 55 years and older, or an assisted living or senior living facility, he said. However, any plans are on hold until Craftsmen Developers “can locate a qualified age-targeted or age-restricted builder,” Gilligan said.

The mansion had been vacant for five years before Eppard took ownership, and he said in that time, it had been neglected.

Around $60,000 was spent to rehab the carriage house behind the home, where church services are currently held, and to bring the building into compliance with Baltimore County code by repairing parts of the building’s leaking roof, remediating asbestos, patching up interior walls and replacing the copper plumbing, which had been stolen along with other valuables, Eppard said.

“It just got worse and worse,” Eppard said. “It was collapsing in the basement from termites, the ceilings upstairs started falling. It was more than we could handle.”

Eppard said he occasionally obliged those who wanted tours of the house, like the Parr family, who used to reside in the mansion, but due to liability concerns, Eppard began to require they sign a release.

“Finally it came to the point where we said, ‘we need to take this down and build something” instead, he said.

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That townhouse plan was shelved after concerns from planners and members of Catonsville’s Ingleside community were raised during two community input meetings, said Gilligan.

At a December meeting, “It was very clear that the existing residents were concerned about school capacity in the area,” Gilligan said. There were also questions about the proposal’s stormwater management, traffic impact and green space preservation, Eppard said.

The developer was given until this December to submit a revised plan, which has not yet been submitted, according to a Baltimore County spokesman.

If a revised plan is submitted by the deadline, a development plan conference would be scheduled, the spokesman said, as well as a public hearing.

Gilligan said his company has met with 25 different building companies, and “either they already have a facility within the area, or the property isn’t large enough” for a facility like Brightview Senior Living or Sunrise Senior Living, age-restricted housing complexes in the Baltimore area.

Age-restricted housing would nix the burden on local schools, Gilligan said, but wouldn’t necessarily address traffic impact. Developing a senior living facility would also require the developers to go through a separate process to get Baltimore County Council approval for a planned unit development, he said.

Eppard said he and Craftsmen “want to try to find something the neighbors would be more favorable to.”

“We have the property right to do these things, but we want to have good neighborhood relationships,” the Catonsville resident said.

Razing the old Sterling funeral home “was part of our plan,” and was announced publicly during community meetings last year, Gilligan said.

The razing permit was issued to Craftsmen Developers on June 17, after a permit acquired in July 2018 expired, county records show.

“We just thought it was time” to tear it down,” Eppard said. “I didn’t see any reason to prolong the inevitable.”

Eppard said he still wants to build a new church on the property, due to be graded this week. Parts of the 19th century structure have been salvaged, Eppard said. He hopes to use parts of the old wood paneling and trim, a staircase bannister, and other pieces in a new 220-seat church, he said.

Eppard said he did not alert the broader community before the recent razing, but when asked by several neighbors about the fate of the old mansion, he told them it was coming down soon.

A representative for the Ingleside Neighborhood Association of Catonsville did not respond to requests for comment.

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