The former St. Mary’s Protestant Episcopal Church at 3900 Roland Ave. could come on the market if Baltimore’s Planning Commission approves a request to subdivide it from surrounding property. Photo by Ed Gunts.

A historic church on Roland Avenue could soon come on the market for redevelopment, if Baltimore’s Planning Commission approves a request to subdivide it from surrounding property.

The Planning Commission has received an application to subdivide more than 7.5 acres in north Baltimore so its owner can sell a one-acre parcel that contains the former St. Mary’s Protestant Episcopal Church, a stone structure at 3900 Roland Ave.

The building most recently has been used as the St. Mary’s Community Center with a variety of occupants, including St. Mary’s Outreach Center; Action in Maturity; Baltimore Shakespeare Factory; magician and illusionist Michael Cantor; and the Baltimore Academy of Defense, featuring sessions on American swordsmanship and Chinese kung fu. Many of them have relocated during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Outreach Center.

According to an application on file with the city, the property is owned by the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Diocese of Maryland, also known as the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. Besides the church, the land includes St. Mary’s Cemetery and a smaller stone chapel that houses offices of the Episcopal Housing Corporation.

“This subdivision splits off the existing cemetery…which will be retained by the diocese, and will allow the church building to be sold,” the application states.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church was built in the 1870s to replace an earlier structure that burned down in 1863. It has a steep slate roof and asymmetrical proportions similar to those of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer at 5603 N. Charles St.

According to a report by Baltimore Heritage, the congregation was formed in the 1850s under the leadership of Henry Mankin, who is credited with naming Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood after the English politician John Hampden.

The congregation’s first church was at Falls Road and 36th Street, where Roosevelt Park is now. According to Baltimore Heritage, St. Mary’s operated as a church until 1999 and became St. Mary’s Community Center in 2002. In addition to worshippers attending religious services, hundreds of people have been to performances of the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory and other events held there over the past two decades.

The land is bounded roughly by Roland Avenue on the east; 40th and 41st streets on the north; Hickory Avenue on the west; and 39th Street and the church building on the south.

If a request is approved to subdivide the the former St. Mary’s Protestant Episcopal Church from surrounding property, the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland would retain ownership of the smaller stone chapel and an inactive cemetery, according to a diocese representative. The cemetery contains unmarked graves for victims of the 1917 and 1918 influenza epidemic. Photo by Ed Gunts.

At a zoning board hearing in April, diocese representative David Carroll said the organization will retain ownership of the smaller stone chapel and the cemetery, which is not active.

“The last plot that was sold in the cemetery was in 2002, and we will not be selling any additional plots,” Carroll said. “It will be closed and maintained…It will not be sold. The diocese has the perpetual responsibility for maintaining that cemetery.”

Carroll explained that the westernmost portion of the cemetery, near Hickory Avenue, doesn’t have as many headstones as the eastern part because it was used to bury people who died more than 100 years ago.

Although it looks as if there is room for more burials, he said, “those are unmarked graves for the victims of the 1917 and 1918 influenza epidemic that the diocese donated for indigent individuals to be buried there,” he said. “There are not additional plots that can be sold, even though it may appear that way.”

Given its commitment to maintain the cemetery, the diocese now wants to find a developer for the underused church, Carroll said. “We want to move forward to find some use, a developer, who will develop the church building as an asset to the community and to the city of Baltimore.”

According to the planning commission’s website, the application calls for the Roland Avenue property to be subdivided into three parcels: 3900 Roland Ave. (Lot 1A), a 1.06-acre parcel containing the church structure; 3902-3984 Roland Ave. (Lot 1B), a 6.2-acre parcel containing cemetery; and 3986 Roland Ave. (Lot 1C), a quarter-acre parcel containing the smaller stone structure.

The church is not protected from demolition by any sort of landmark designation. If the subdivision is approved, the parcel containing the church would be zoned R-6, a category that permits offices or residences. Part of its value is that it includes a parking lot and a sloping lawn in the rear that could be a site for new construction. Buildings in an R-6 zone can rise to about four stories – approximately the same height as the church is now.

Al Barry, a planning consultant who has been working with the diocese, said a buyer for the church property has not been identified. He said he believes the building has the potential to be converted to a work setting, similar to the way the former St. John’s Episcopal Church at 1700 South Road in Mount Washington has been converted to the headquarters of a marketing agency, Warschawski. It also could be sold for continued use as a church, meeting hall or performing space, but the acoustics probably would have to be upgraded, past tenants say.

The planning commission hasn’t set a date to consider the subdivision request. The commission is treating the application as a minor subdivision, which is put on the commission’s consent agenda without public testimony, as opposed to a major subdivision, which involves commissioners hearing public testimony before voting on an application.

Potential landmark on Roland Avenue

A former funeral home at 3818 Roland Ave. could be added to the Baltimore preservation commission’s Potential Landmark List. Photo by Ed Gunts.

Although the former St. Mary’s church isn’t protected by landmark designation, a building one block south soon may be.

Eric Holcomb, executive director of Baltimore’s preservation commission, said the panel will consider a request next month to add the former funeral home at 3818 Roland Ave. to its Potential Landmark List, a roster of buildings that could become permanent city landmarks.

The building was constructed before 1900 and has also housed an insurance company and the local headquarters of the Junior League of Baltimore. A new owner has proposed to convert the upper floors to apartments and modify the exterior to accommodate a business on the first level.

Some residents have expressed concerns to council member Odette Ramos and others about the extent to which the owner wants to alter the structure. That led to a request to add the building to the city’s potential landmark list, which would give the preservation commission authority to review and approve any proposed changes to the exterior, and give concerned neighbors a chance to testify at a public hearing before any final decisions are made.

A new role for Somerset

Somerset Development Company is becoming involved in the management of Saint Mary’s Roland View Towers, the two 1960s-era apartment buildings at 3838 and 3939 Roland Ave. that together contain several hundred apartments for residents aged 55 and over.

The non-profit board that manages the two residential buildings this month notified tenants that it has made a “transformational decision to enter into a strategic partnership with Somerset” to manage the two buildings in a way that won’t compromise “our original mission of providing quality, affordable housing for seniors.”

Somerset is “a privately owned business focused on the development and preservation of affording housing in the Baltimore-Washington corridor,” the St. Mary’s trustees said in their notice to tenants. Its management has “extensive experience in the planning, development and construction of dedicated facilities supported by complex tax credit financing.”

Founded in 2000, Somerset’s portfolio includes the 266-unit Linden Park Apartments for seniors at 301 McMechen St. in Bolton Hill (formerly known as the Memorial Apartments), and The Jordan, a 62-unit market-rate apartment building next to it. Founding principals Nancy Hooff and James Campbell were instrumental in the recent conversion of a former union hall at 1505 Eutaw Place to Baltimore Unity Hall, a $9.95 million center for arts, education and job training – and possible prototype for reusing the St. Mary’s Community Center.

New restaurants for Lauraville and McHenry Row

Baltimore’s liquor board today tentatively approved a Class “B” Beer, Wine and Liquor restaurant license for Papi’s Tacos Lauraville at 4801 Harford Road. This will be the fifth location for Papi’s, which also has operations in Hampden, Fells Point, Towson and Ocean City. Applicants were Charles Gjerde, Carrie Podles and John Burke. Gjerde, who also operates Twisted Sisters restaurant in Hampden and Alexander’s Tavern in Fells Point, said the Lauraville location will seat around 110 and represent an investment of $750,000.

The liquor board also approved a Class “B” license for a restaurant called Fat Patties at 1724 Whetstone Way, part of the McHenry Row development off Fort Avenue in Locust Point. Applicant Kevin Curley, the owner of RegionAle and The Wurst Bar in Federal Hill, described it as a “high end version of Shake Shack,” with Smash burgers, beers, fries and milkshakes, in the space formerly occupied by World of Beer.

Also approved today:

A Class “B” restaurant liquor license for Souvlaki, an existing restaurant that is expanding into a corner space at 1101 W. 36th St. in Hampden and didn’t previously have a liquor license;

The transfer of a Class “D” license from 1400 Key Highway for Ekiben, an existing Asian Fusion restaurant at 1622 Eastern Ave. that also didn’t previously have a liquor license; and

The transfer of a Class “A” liquor license from 3000 Windsor Ave. to 101 N. Schroeder St. to permit sales of beer and wine at a small grocery store called Market Fresh Gourmet. The market will be part of La Cité Development’s 32-acre, $800 million mixed use project known as CenterWest in Poppleton.

Restaurant proposed for City House Charles in Mount Vernon

City House Charles is the site of a proposed restaurant. The restaurant would inhabit the space of the former Grand Central nightclub, which closed in September 2020. Photo by Ed Gunts.

Baltimore’s liquor board also disclosed this week that it has received an application to transfer a Class “B” license to an operator who wants to open a restaurant at 1001 N. Charles St., where Grand Central nightclub closed in September 2020.

The restaurant would be on the first level and basement of City House Charles, the eight-story, 37,000-square-foot office and retail project that Landmark Partners is building at 1001-1003 N. Charles St.

After Grand Central closed, license holders Jon Pannoni and John Porter retained its liquor license, and attorney Stephan Fogleman Jr. told the liquor board they intended to transfer it to a new restaurant that would open as part of City House Charles. Fogleman later asked the liquor board for an extension that kept the license alive while construction was underway.

According to documents on file with the liquor board, the Grand Central license would be transferred to an applicant named George Etheridge Sarkes. A name for the proposed restaurant was not given. Schamu, Machowski + Patterson Architects drew up the floor plans filed with the application, which show a full-service restaurant that would seat about 80 people.

The application from Sarkes is the second time in the past year that a food service business has emerged for City House Charles. Last December, Nem Popov and Brody Tennant, operators of the Roggenart bakery and café businesses in Columbia and Ellicott City, said they plan to open a 2,000-square-foot café as part of City House Charles. It will be a return to Baltimore for Roggenart, which started in 2017 at 5722 Falls Road in Mount Washington.

It is unclear whether Roggenart’s café has any connection to the restaurant proposed by Sarkes. Plans for City House Charles have always included two food establishments at street level, a formal restaurant on the corner and a more casual café. A hearing date for Sarkes’ liquor license application has not been set.

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

One reply on “Urban Landscape: Roland Avenue church seeks developer; more restaurants in Lauraville, Locust Point and Mount Vernon; a new role for Somerset”

  1. I am an old Baltimore Resident. My Family moved many years ago. We still have some of our Family still living in Various areas.

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