The pending sale of an old parsonage near the southern tip of the county is raising hopes that the owner, a nonprofit agency, can revive a program to help home owners refurbish historic and blighted property.
Arundel Community Development Services is negotiating with a buyer who wants to live in the two-story building in the crossroads town of Friendship and run a business there as well.
"We're going to have a contract to purchase any day now, end of December at the latest," predicted Kathleen Koch, the agency's executive director.
The agency has been marketing the former parsonage and adjacent building, a one-story store with an apartment in the rear, for a year. Asking prices are $125,000 for the parsonage and $135,000 for the store.
Proceeds from the sale of the two historic properties would seed a revolving fund to help owners of old homes.
The county maintained a Scattered Sites Renewal Program fund of less than $500,000 before dropping it in 1992 during budget cuts.
In 1993, the county office that handled the program was spun off into a nonprofit agency. Through the program, owners of older properties could get money to refurbish them and, in some instances, receive technical advice from county planners to meet design and code requirements.
"I think a lot of people would like to have older homes. But some of them, they need a lot of work, a lot of fixing up," said Newell Cannon, former chairwoman of the Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation.
Take the case of the landmark Thomas Pumphrey House in Glen Burnie. Burwood Road Associates, a development firm, was counting on the program in 1992 to help it sell the house, which was listed for $100,000.
But the 1863 house, vandalized and fire-ravaged, remains unsold. At least one potential buyer withdrew because the $125,000 incentive package was insufficient for a house that needs more than $224,000 in repairs.
Undaunted, county historic preservationists want to see the fund restored and view the anticipated sale of the Friendship properties as a first step.
"We will eventually be able to have some funds available to restart the scattered sites program," Ms. Koch said. "I really think is going to take the sale of both properties to make the program work."
The reopening of the store would double the number of commercial businesses in the community.
Friendship is a few streets that grew up in the mid-1800s around Old Solomons Island Road. Through World War II, business was brisk at its markets and filling stations, the only ones for miles around. With a telephone and radio, the E .P. Walke General Merchandise store -- the one for sale now -- was a community gathering place.
But the store closed a year after Mr. Walke died in 1984. A man who bought both properties was unable to make a go of businesses there. The county bought the sites from the mortgage holder.
Meanwhile, an updated Solomons Island Road bypassed the store a mile to the west. Jobs moved away from farms; people began shopping in Annapolis; and Friendship's tiny commercial district withered. A post office and grocery remain.
The parsonage and store sites are small, ill-suited to any business that would require much customer parking.
"Just about anything that is moral and legal would be accepted, within reason," said the Rev. Ed Heydt, pastor of Friendship United Methodist Church, which is diagonally across the street.
"I don't think we would like to see either store turned into a roadhouse or a tavern which would bring folks from out of town in a partying spirit that would disturb the quiet life we have here," he said.