A vacant church in Mount Washington may be reborn as the corporate headquarters for Blue Ocean Realty under plans approved yesterday by Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.
Currently located at 6615 Reisterstown Road, Blue Ocean has a contract to buy the former St. John’s Mount Washington Episcopal Church at 1700 South Road, a 1928 Romanesque Revival structure that is still owned by the church, but has been vacant since the congregation began worshipping elsewhere in 2013.
Jonathan Ehrenfeld, the president of Blue Ocean, told the commission his company has outgrown its current space, and that his first choice is to stay in the city and build a new headquarters.
Ehrenfeld said he looked in the 21208 and 21209 zip codes and was drawn to the Mount Washington church as a potential headquarters site, but needs to modify the building to accommodate the proposed change in use.
The changes sought by Blue Ocean included removing nine stained-glass windows that were installed in the church in the 1940s and replacing them with clear ones, lowering certain window sills to let in more light and retaining but “encapsulating” two crosses on the exterior.
Because the church is within the Mount Washington Historic District, any changes to its exterior must be approved by the preservation commission. Ehrenfeld said the offices would provide room for 30 staff members, with some space for expansion. If he could not get CHAP’s approval to make the proposed changes, he said, the conversion would not proceed and Blue Ocean likely would move to Pikesville.
“For us, this project is much more than an investment,” he told the commission. “It is a home. We are pulling out all the stops to bring this project to life.”
In a report prepared for the commission’s review, preservation planning staff had recommended not approving the removal of so many stained glass windows.
But after hearing testimony from the developer and his consultants and other supporters of the project, including representatives of the Mount Washington Improvement Association and the Mount Washington Merchants’ Association, the preservation commission voted 8 to 0 to allow the requested exterior changes.
The property also needs a zoning change before construction can begin, which the Mount Washington Improvement Association voted last month to support.
Ehrenfeld said CHAP’s vote was a key to enabling the project to move ahead.
“We are exceedingly thankful to everybody who supported our project today,” he said. “We felt the commissioners were very attentive and ultimately made the right decision….We’re very pleased.”
Founded in 2004, Blue Ocean syndicates, buys and manages multi-family, office, retail and industrial real estate. According to its website, it has 35 properties valued at more than $350 million. Its portfolio includes 3,700 apartments and 2 million square feet of commercial space, making it one of the largest private real estate developers in the city and a significant corporate citizen for Mount Washington.
The church was designed by Wyatt and Nolting. Gabriel Kroiz of Kroiz Architecture is the architect for the conversion. His design also calls for adding a floor inside the former sanctuary and creating a new entrance plaza and lobby for the building by regrading a hill.
Since 2013, when it put the property up for sale, the congregation has been worshipping at Wesley Chapel in the Springwell Senior Living Community. Blue Ocean’s contract for 1700 South Road also includes a separate parish house that the church still uses. According to consultant Al Barry of A. B. Associates, the sale contract calls for Blue Ocean to lease the parish house back to the church for 99 years.
Ehrenfeld said he does not yet have a figure for how much the conversion will cost. Now that CHAP has approved the design concept, the developer will ask the architect to prepare more detailed construction drawings, Barry said.
The Mount Washington church conversion is the second Blue Ocean project to get a key city approval this month.
On May 4, Baltimore’s planning commission approved plans for The Overlook at Roland Park, a $40 million, six-level luxury apartment project with 132 residences and parking for 190 to 200 cars. The location is 1190 W. Northern Parkway, just east of the Belvedere Towers apartments. Construction is expected to begin this fall and be complete by mid-2019.