Razing of historic house for church OK'd


A Southern Baptist congregation near Columbia received zoning approval yesterday to build a new church and raze a mid-19th century stone house that county preservationists would like to save.

The Board of Appeals said the South Columbia Baptist Church's plan to raze Moundland, a two-story stone house built in the 1840s, conflicted with preservation policies expressed in the county's new General Plan for growth.

But since the county has no laws to protect structures outside Ellicott City's historic district, the board said it could neither deny the congregation a special zoning exception to build a church in a residential area nor order it to move the stone house.

The congregation of 150 members, which now meets at Hammond High School, hopes to break ground this summer for a new church on its property in the 8800 block of Guilford Road, its pastor said yesterday.

The board's decision drew a strong reaction from the county's historic preservation planner, Alice Ann Wetzel.

"I am saddened by the decision," she said. "It sets a crummy precedent. The board took a narrow interpretation unlike the Planning Board, which recommended that the church be located elsewhere on the site."

She said the only hope of saving Moundland rested with legislation the administration was drafting to protect historic sites.

It seems unlikely that the County Council could pass the bill in time, she said.

The Rev. W. Stephen Neel, pastor of the 10-year-old South Columbia Baptist Church, said he understood the concerns of preservationists.

"We don't want to appear insensitive, but we have only limited resources, and we hope people will try and understand our top priority is to the church and not the historic preservation society," he said.

He said the church had studied the financing of a $1 million new church building for two years and "reluctantly" came to the conclusion that Moundland had to be razed.

He hopes to put off the demolition until the new church is finished, and he said there would be "some sort of auctioning of its parts, like its antique glass windows."

Mr. Neel said the congregation decided to raze Moundland, made of local stone and typical of dwellings built in central Maryland and Pennsylvania during the mid-19th centu

ry, because it would cost up to $250,000 to renovate it and $180,000 to relocate it.

He noted that there was an identical stone house now used as a private residence around the corner from the church's property. "Although the stone house on our property is set to be torn down, at least there is another just like it nearby," he said.

For preservationists, the board's decision was the second bit of bad news this month. Troy Hill, the ancestral home of the Dorsey family in Elkridge, was recently devastated by fire. The county has owned the building for 20 years and was planning to restore it.

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