A rally was held August 28 in Southland Hills to support the protection of a 150-year-old mansion and the green space that surrounds it. (Rachael Pacella, Baltimore Sun Media Group)
More than 150 people gathered outside the former Presbyterian Home of Maryland, in the Southland Hills neighborhood of Towson, Sunday evening for a rally to show support for preserving the home's historic building and grounds, which are now facing the possibility of redevelopment.
The Presbyterian Home of Maryland announced earlier this year that it will sell the Towson property and open a new facility in Harford County, sparking concern among neighbors that the property could be developed and that a more-than-150-year-old mansion on the site could be torn down.
At the rally, community leaders delivered brief remarks about the building's history and the importance to the neighborhood of the facility's grounds, which Southland Hills residents have long used as a kind of unofficial park. Apart from that, the evening included neighbors catching up on a path by the hill, dogs playing fetch, children playing tag and teens practicing their lacrosse passes — all the things residents say they typically do on the property.
"That's not a photo op," state Sen. Jim Brochin, who represents Towson, said when he noticed kids playing on the hillside. "This is what people do."
The property is a centerpiece of the community, residents said, a place where children meet after school to play wiffle ball as their parents chat. Some residents said the lawn and historic nature of the area, including the Presbyterian Home building, were among the reasons why they moved to Southland Hills.
At the request of the Southland Hills Improvement Association, The Preservation Alliance of Baltimore County submitted a request to the Baltimore County Landmark Preservation Commission May 5 to designate the mansion and property a historic landmark. A hearing on the nomination was scheduled for Sept. 8, but has been rescheduled for Oct. 13.
If the building gets the designation, it would be protected from demolition and exterior renovations to the building would be limited.
At the event Sunday evening, officials encouraged residents to attend the hearing and submit written testimony.
'It's really used a lot'
After nearly 90 years in operation, the Presbyterian Home announced in May that it would close the Towson location and sell the property, citing a need for a "prohibitively expensive" renovation and declining occupancy.
Two weeks ago Caves Valley Partners emerged as the winning bidder for the building with a proposal to convert it into offices that would be leased to the Baltimore County government.
Caves Valley principal Arthur Adler said the Towson-based developer at first wanted to do a residential project on the site. The idea of converting the Presbyterian Home building into offices came from the county, he said, adding that Caves Valley explored the proposal.
But the proposal sparked concern from residents of Southland Hills, who said they feared that offices could bring problems with traffic and parking.
Last week, Baltimore County officials backed away from that proposal, citing the community's concerns. That change prompted the developer to return its focus to a potential residential redevelopment plan for the property that could result in the building's demolition.
Among those who attended the rally Sunday was Elizabeth Amos, 88, who has lived across the street from the Presbyterian Home since she was 2.
"Today we're here to honor her history," Therese McAllister, of the Southland Hills Improvement Association, said to those gathered for the event.
Amos and her daughter, Anne Amos Coughlin, recalled many years of family gatherings at the home, and the use of the Presbyterian Home lawn for such activities as football games. Both said they want to see the green space saved.
"The preservation of that building behind you should be non-negotiable," Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, told the crowd during the event.
After brief remarks, the crowd dispersed to talk, and parents watched as a group of young children played a game in a stand of trees on the hill. Jack and Kris Spaulding live beside the rear portion of the property. Their two children learned to ride a bike on a path by the hill, they said.
"It's really used a lot in the neighborhood," Kris Spaulding said.