The county Zoning Board last week approved rezoning that will allow about 90 homes to be built near the ruins of the St. Charles Seminary in western Ellicott City.
The 55-acre property, called Terra Maria (Latin for Maryland) is owned by Robert J. Lancelotta Sr., owner of Erdman Lumber Co. in Baltimore, and his wife.
The lots will probably average about a half-acre, said Lancelotta's son, Robert J. Lancelotta Jr. The site had been zoned for 3-acre residential lots, but the board granted higher density under the residential-environmental development (R-ED) zoning because it would be connected to the county water and sewer system.
Construction is expected to begin by spring of next year.
Local historian Joetta Cramm, who included the seminary in one of her history books, said the project could provide better access to the ruins.
"I'm in favor of anything we can do to preserve some of our history, especially if it becomes part of a community and people can see it," she said. "Now, you can't even see it."
In addition to the ruins of the main seminary building, which was destroyed by fire in 1911, the property also features a stone grotto the seminarians built to resemble one in Lourdes, said Robert J. Lancelotta Jr. A 1930s theater on the property will probably be incorporated into the community as a theater or a day-care center.
Originally part of Doughregan Manor, home of Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll, the land has since served as a farm for the Archdiocese of Baltimore's St. Charles College and Seminary. Starting in the 1800s, it was home of the seminary. In the first half of this century, it served as the county fairgrounds, a summer camp and religious revival site.
The Lancelotta family bought the neglected property in 1978. They have lived on it and restored it since 1981 and plan to continue to live in a large stone house there.
Lancelotta testified during a March 18 hearing that he could not wait for comprehensive rezoning of the eastern part of the county this fall because of the economy's toll on his business.
Erdman Lumber Co. filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code in September. Its case is still pending in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Baltimore.
The county Department of Planning and Zoning recommended allowing the change from 3-acre zoning to half-acre residential, but the county Planning Board disagreed. The board recommended that the Zoning Board grant R-ED zoning instead.
The R-ED classification allows lot sizes smaller than an eighth of an acre but puts stricter controls on development, such as requiring Planning Board approval.