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Developer seeking to restore Oella flour mill into 190-unit apartment complex with retail on ground floor

Developers have plans to turn a historic flour mill in Oella, along the banks of the Patapsco River across from Old Ellicott City, into a mixed-use apartment complex with a retail space on the ground floor.

Preserving the history of the Wilkins-Rodgers flour mill is really important, said David Tufaro, the founder of Terra Nova Ventures LLC, the developer that has proposed plans for the more than century-old mill.

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“In 1916, it was built as a high-rise flour mill so it has a long history as a flour mill but that is no longer possible, so the issue is how do you preserve the building as best as you can in 2021 or going forward?” Tufaro said. “We’re adding no new footprint to the property, we’re not adding any paving to the site, it’s basically being restored.”

Plans call for the Frederick Road property to transition into a multipurpose structure known as Ellicott Mill, housing 190 apartment units, retail space, a restaurant and a museum.

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Terra Nova Ventures, LLC plans to redevelop Wilkens-Rogers property, a former grain mill on Frederick Road in Oella, into 190 apartment units with a restaurant, retail space and a museum.
Terra Nova Ventures, LLC plans to redevelop Wilkens-Rogers property, a former grain mill on Frederick Road in Oella, into 190 apartment units with a restaurant, retail space and a museum. (Jeffrey F. Bill / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

During the Comprehensive Zoning Map Process last year, the zoning from the property was changed from a light manufacturing zoning designation that encompassed most of the mill property to allow the mixed-use development, according to Sean Naron, a spokesman for Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. A virtual community input meeting on the project was held in May.

The project is still in the very early stages, according to Tufaro.

“We have to get through the whole Baltimore County development process, site plan approval, building permits, and we have to get the financing which we are working on,” he said. “We’re hoping to get started in the first quarter of next year in 2022.”

Wilkins-Rodgers Inc. had run the mill since 1969, before shutting down last year to move the milling operations to the Midwest. It was Maryland’s last commercial grain mill, and the closure ended more than two centuries of milling in and around Ellicott City, dating back to the mill established on the same site by the Ellicott brothers in 1774.

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John McGrain, a longtime Baltimore County historian, said at the time it was a shame to close down a 200-year-old tradition.

“It was an enormous operation in its time, with many sets of millstones [powered] by the water power of the Patapsco,” he said in 2019.

Terra Nova Ventures, LLC plans to redevelop Wilkens-Rogers property, a former grain mill on Frederick Road in Oella, into 190 apartment units with a restaurant, retail space and a museum.
Terra Nova Ventures, LLC plans to redevelop Wilkens-Rogers property, a former grain mill on Frederick Road in Oella, into 190 apartment units with a restaurant, retail space and a museum. (Jeffrey F. Bill / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

According to Tufaro, the property had other suitors, but Terra Nova Ventures was the most attractive developer because of their expertise in historical preservation. Tufaro has also been involved with the redevelopment of Mill No. 1, a 19th century cotton mill overlooking the Jones Falls river, and the Montgomery Park building in southwest Baltimore.

“We certainly had the strongest team in terms of historical renovation and flood protection,” he said. “We competed for it and we felt we were the best team because we had done other mill projects and [this project] is located in a 100-year floodplain.”

The 100-year floodplain refers to land predicted to flood during a significant weather event that has a 1 in 100 chance of happening any given year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

For this particular project, the 100-year floodplain takes over the mill’s entire first floor, Tufaro said, and building codes require residences be above the floodplain.

“We put parking in there, we have a little bit of retail of about 5,000 square feet, the entry lobby, and then we have a restaurant that will be located on an old concrete platform that overlooks the Patapsco River,” he said of plans for the first floor.

First-floor level windows and doors will be made with “aquarium glass” — which, as the name implies, you might find at an aquarium or a zoo. Tufaro said it will protect the first floor from water coming into the building in the event of a flood.

Plans also call for restoration on parts of the Old Mill Trestle Bridge which extends to the center of the building, and a museum located in the stone portion of the building, although the project is in the early stages of approval and development, he said.

The historical renovation project could take about 18 months to complete once work gets under way, Tufaro said. Terra Nova Ventures hopes to open the building in the summer of 2023.

“When it’s all done it will all be cleaned up, the exterior concrete that’s been damage will be repaired, and windows will be restored and replaced,” Tufaro said.

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