A retired minister is proposing to build a boarding house and 11 low-income homes in Edgewood to provide transitional residences for homeless people trying to pull their lives together.

J. William McNally said he's asked County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann "to put us on the fast track so we can start this by the spring."


McNally, who retired last year as minister of Presbury United Methodist Church, is executive director of Forward Step Inc., an Edgewood shelter that operates as a boarding house for veterans.

In a Dec. 4 letter to Rehrmann, John J. Gessner, a Bel Air lawyer who represents Forward Step, said the boarding house project would be called Second Step.


"It is anticipated that the average length of stay at Second Step would be 18 months," wrote Gesner, a lawyer with Venable Baetjer & Howard.

"Priority would be given to women and children. . . . A non-profit corporation, separate from Forward Step Inc., would be formed to operate Second Step."

Gessner also assured the countyexecutive that if public money is provided, "agreements could be entered into with Harford County or other public agencies to ensure thatfunds were properly accounted for and that Second Step was operated as proposed."

Forward Step was the focus of controversy in 1989 and 1990 after county and state grants for those two years were cut offbecause of county administrators' concerns about the shelter's financial management. James M. Jewell, the county treasurer, said the grants were cut off because not all the money given to the shelter was adequately accounted for.

Controversy has also arisen over the shelter's use. The shelter was started as a haven for homeless and abused women, but in June 1990 it was cited for a zoning violation because male boarders were living there. McNally has since applied for anotherzoning variance to accept male boarders and is appealing the case toCircuit Court.

McNally said the proposed boarding house would be across the street from the existing shelter, adjacent to the Harford County Food Bank on Old Edgewood Road, which he also operates. About 16 residents would live in the boarding house at one time, McNally said.

"We're trying to get the zoning issue settled. There's some question about whether you can build a boarding house in a business district," McNally said.

William G. Carroll, the county's director ofplanning and zoning, has been reviewing the proposed Second Step project since early December at Rehrmann's request but has not issued a decision.


The small subdivision McNally has proposed would allow previously homeless individuals who have been through Forward Step or similar programs that provide counseling to take the next step towardindependence, McNally said.

"I don't want these places just to beflophouses. They would be for people who are ready to be independent. They will have to be able to afford the house," McNally said.

"We need to carry people one step at a time, rather than expect them tobe self-sufficient all at once."

McNally said the houses should cost less than $80,000 each to build and would be made available at low cost.

The shelter already owns the 3 acres the houses would be built on, and zoning approval is not required for 15 or fewer houses on that tract, McNally said.

"We have finished one house as a model," said McNally, who lives in the model.