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Uncertainty remains for old Taneytown Creamery

A red brick building bearing scribbles of graves, a ghoulish drawing and fake blood stains will stay standing in Taneytown for the immediate future.

The former Taneytown Creamery, turned haunted house for more than 25 years, has remained vacant since it stopped supplying Halloween shrieks in the early 2000s. And it will remain unoccupied for now, as the city was denied a state grant to demolish the city-owned, fenced-in building at 5 W. Warehouse Alley.

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development cited a competitive rating and ranking system used to select the recipients of the Strategic Demolition and Smart Growth Impact Fund. About 30 applications were received with a total of $13.5 million requested. Yet only $5 million was available, and Taneytown's project went unfunded.

The city initially applied for the grant in October 2012, but the Maryland Historical Trust stated the building held sentimental value. It should remain standing, J. Rodney Little, director and state historic preservation officer, wrote in a letter dated June 10.

The city applied for the grant again for Fiscal Year 2014 to net state funding to demolish the vacant creamery.

An MHT decision that a building holds historic properties that contribute to the city doesn't necessarily discount a municipality from receiving the grant, according to Kevin Baynes, DHCD's community programs director. If the property is substantially deteriorating, that will be taken into consideration, and some mitigation - such as displaying photos of the old building in city hall - could be hammered out.

Such grants are competitive, Baynes said, and a project's readiness is a factor in the state's decision-making process.

"Sometimes if there's any hesitation or concern or challenges, unfortunately those projects tend to be the ones to not get funded because there's so many projects that are ready to go," Baynes said.

Once budget season is over, the conversation in Taneytown will again turn to a question that has circulated the City Council several times over the years: What should the council do with the building, which a 2009 report stated is in need of more than $1.2 million in repairs, and its corresponding 0.84-acre lot?

In the past, the city has discussed the question at length in council meetings. It's performed studies. It's convened committees.

"It's been going on for so long - forever, ever, ever, ever," Taneytown Economic Development Director Nancy McCormick said.

A May 2009 report noted nearly all the building's windows are gone, and the exterior walls are in need of repair. The roof needs to be replaced, and new second-floor exit stairs are a necessity.

The building used as a creamery during the late 19th and early 20th centuries - with a closure date unclear - is in "generally poor shape and will require significant effort to repair and renovate regardless of the new use," states the report by Westminster-based architect Dean Camlin.

The 2009 report stated the building is worth preserving. It could serve as a restaurant or as office space. Or it could transform into a community center with two large multipurpose rooms. About a year later, a city committee generally agreed, also noting the building was worth preserving.

The city tried putting it up for sale in the past to see if a developer might be interested in reinventing the space, but the effort yielded no takers. The City Council decided to continue to pursue the demolition grant to keep the building's options open, while possibly putting it on the market in a July council meeting. It never went up for sale, and the demolition grant was denied in a March 7 letter to Mayor James McCarron Jr. from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

It was disappointing news, McCarron said, and the former creamery's fate is still up in the air.

Councilman Angelo Zambetti, initially in support of preserving the old building, said he's leaning toward wanting it demolished.

It's an eyesore, Councilman Richard Hess Jr. said at the July 8 meeting.

And Councilman Carl Ebaugh remains firm in his position: "Oh, I want that thing down so bad, I'll tell you what, I really do," he said. "It's a hazard."

The city has the right to tear it down at any time using its own funds, McCormick said, adding she's researching other grant possibilities but doesn't have anything concrete yet. And any decisions will be a topic of discussion between city officials and the mayor and council.

As the council is knee-deep in crafting its Fiscal Year 2015 budget, the creamery's discussion will be tabled for the moment.

"It's an issue we have to address, but it's not an issue of immediate importance," McCarron said. "It's just sitting there - we just need to decide what to do with it."

And McCarron's uncertain of the answer to the question that's circled the council and city officials for years.

"The idea would be to find a developer who would be interested in taking it on as a commercial enterprise, but we've looked for that and haven't been very successful either," he said. "I don't know - it may be wise to try to sell the property. Everything's really up in the air."

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