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New buyers interested in Presbyterian Home property in Towson

Developer Caves Valley Partners has abandoned a controversial proposal to purchase the former Presbyterian Home of Maryland building in Towson for use as office space.

Arthur Adler, a partner with Caves Valley, said the Towson-based company canceled the deal during a "study period" that had been part of a contract for purchase.

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In May, the Presbyterian Home of Maryland nursing home announced that it was leaving the building on Georgia Court near the heart of Towson after nearly 90 years of operation there and putting the land and building up for sale.

A new special district would add a layer of scrutiny to new projects in a commercial area of Rodgers Forge and Anneslie.

Caves Valley made an offer to buy the property and struck a tentative agreement with Baltimore County government to lease the space for government workers.

"We do office space, and we thought it would be cool office space," Adler said.

But that idea came under fire from some neighbors who were concerned about traffic and other issues related to potential office use. Additionally, some wanted the property preserved because of its local history as the Bosley Mansion, the mid-1800s home of a prominent early Towson family.

Residents of the Southland Hills community sought to have it added to the county's list of historic landmarks – a proposal that drew support from the Preservation Alliance of Baltimore County. A hearing with the Baltimore County Landmarks Preservation Commission to consider that designation is scheduled for April 13.

State Sen. Jim Brochin, a Democrat, and County Councilman David Marks, a Republican, also voiced opposition to the potential office lease to the county. Both represent the Towson area.

Adler suggested the overall opposition influenced Caves Valley's decision whether to move forward.

"We played it out a little bit to see if their minds would change," Adler said of opponents. When that didn't happen, Caves Valley terminated the contract.

"Not everything works out," he said.

In the meantime, three other potential buyers of the property said this week they have formulated development proposals for the property that include condominiums or an assisted living center for patients with Alzheimer's or dementia.

Baltimore County and the developer Caves Valley Partners announced Wednesday a $300 million mixed-use development that will include nearly an entire block of downtown Towson.

Presbyterian Home board member Joe Slovick sent Marks an email Jan. 20 informing him that Caves Valley had canceled its contract, but noting that several other potential buyers still exist.

Presbyterian Home of Maryland President Sue Shea declined comment through a spokesperson Monday, and Slovick did not return a call for comment left with the Presbyterian Home.

Marks said he supports a residential use for the property and would like to see its open space remain untouched.

"I would like to see as much of the lawn preserved as possible," he said Monday.

Bidders remain interested

Several potential buyers who submitted bids for the property last summer confirmed their continued interest in the property last week.

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Patrick Byrne, Director of the Division of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said he and a group of private partners are interested in purchasing the property for use as an assisted living facility with a focus on memory care for patients with dementia or Alzheimer's.

Byrne said he sees the property's large lawn, which neighbors have said they want to preserve, as an asset, adding that he would not restrict public access to the lawn and might even add a playground there.

"We hope to have a very interactive relationship between the community and the residents," he said.

Byrne said his proposal, which he submitted to MacKenzie last summer, would leave the exterior of the property as is, apart from a fresh coat of paint. The interior would need a renovation, he added, the scope of which is unknown, as his partnership has not done a full assessment of the building.

Baltimore-based developer Marty Azola also reiterated his interest in the property Tuesday. Azola has proposed reusing the existing building as a condominium development. Azola said his business, Azola, Inc., has focused on adaptive reuse of buildings for more than 50 years.

Azola said his initial proposal was for 40 units on the property, though that number could change depending on what is economically feasible in the Towson housing market.

The Baltimore County Council on Monday night unanimously approved a bill introduced by Councilman David Marks that amends some of the standards for the Downtown Towson Overlay District, a zoning designation the council approved in August that places controls on development in downtown Towson.

"We would try to design the project for as few units as possible to keep the pricing in line with Towson and Southland Hills for that product," Azola said.

Southland Hills Improvement Association President Paul Saleh

said last week that he has recently spoken with Byrne and Azola about their plans for the property, adding that the community association thinks both proposals are a positive use of the property.

"We really appreciate these potential buyers engaging the community," Saleh said.

A third bidder, Harbor Retirement Associates, also confirmed its interest in the property last week but declined to provide details about potential plans for the parcel. Harbor Retirement Associates is a Florida-based senior-living community developer and manager that operates "25 communities and is partnering on the development or acquisition of 15 more" in eight states, according to its website.

Saleh said that bidder has been in contact with the community, but not recently.

Saleh said the Southland Hills Improvement Association hopes to work with whomever buys the property, and will continue to support a proposal to add the property to the county's list of historic landmarks. The association would like to see a residential use on the property, which Saleh said could include condominiums or assisted living.

Officially declaring the building historic would mean that its exterior architecture could not be altered without the approval of the county's Landmarks Preservation Commission, nor could the structure be torn down without the commission's approval, according to county officials. If the commission votes to declare the building historic, the Baltimore County Council would ultimately have the final vote on whether to add the property to the list.

Azola has said he believes declaring the property a landmark is very important, but added that it is also important to define what portions of the building are worth protecting.



"We'll figure that out if we get the opportunity," Azola said.

Byrne said his group is not opposed to the landmark status, and could pursue a landmark designation itself if the pending proposal isn't approved.

"If we were to purchase the property, it would not matter to us much if it had already received the historic designation or not," he said in an email Jan. 24.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this story.

This story has been updated.

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