Church will help market property for development

March 30, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Grace Episcopal Church in Elkridge has agreed to market a portion of the former Elkridge Drive-In site, whose owners have had trouble developing the property as a retirement community.

Owners and developers Barry and Charu Mehta of Columbia want to create a retirement community on their 17-acre site off Route 1 but have been unable to find a buyer.

"The church will help me," Mr. Mehta said. "The church will take the main responsibility of finding" interested developers.

Mr. Mehta's plans to develop the property have long been a source of tension between him and some members of the Elkridge community.

As recently as Thursday,, members of the Elkridge Community Association criticized Mr. Mehta for his plans to create a flea market on the property, saying he had failed to deliver on past plans for the site.

Now, some residents seem willing to give Mr. Mehta another chance -- including Grace Episcopal member David Maier, who himself criticized the developer at Thursday night's meeting.

Mr. Maier said that he and other church officials have agreed to help Mr. Mehta market part of his property to those interested in developing part of it into senior citizen housing.

"We're doing it for the community," Mr. Maier said. The church will be in a position to influence the type of development that takes place, he said, adding, "We want something that looks professional."

Mr. Mehta, who also is a member of the congregation, said he agreed to the arrangement at a meeting he called Friday, saying the church has better business connections than he does.

"The church wants elderly housing and so do I, and the church has better contacts than I do," he said. Meanwhile, his proposal for a flea market on the site remains alive.

Other Elkridge residents expressed skepticism upon learning about Grace Episcopal Church's agreement to help market Mr. Mehta's property.

"I'm a little bit surprised," said Ray Miller, president of the Elkridge Community Association. "I don't see Grace's role as a sales agent. I'm real skeptical about what role everybody would be playing."

Under the arrangement, Elkridge Elder Ministries, a nonprofit coalition of churches being formed by Grace Episcopal, will look for companies interested in developing senior housing on 10 acres of the site.

"We should be able to get two places there for 5 acres apiece," Mr. Maier said.

If the group is unable to find potential investors, it will return Mr. Mehta's land to him, Mr. Maier said.

Members of Elkridge Elder Ministries first plan to spend two weeks looking for interested property management companies that deal with senior citizen housing, such as Shelter Development Corp., which already is planning to build an apartment complex for the elderly near the Elkridge Branch Library.

"We have to see where the interest lies and move forward," said Mr. Maier, who expects such a business deal to take two to three years to complete.

Despite Shelter Development's plans, Mr. Maier said there will be plenty of demand for a retirement community in Elkridge.

"There's going to be such a growing need because baby boomers are starting to move through the cycle," he said.

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