Decision postponed on proposal for Towson rectory

August 21, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

A decision to turn a Towson-area rectory into a home for recovering alcoholics and addicts was postponed last night, frustrating many nearby residents who oppose the plan.

They gathered at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in anticipation of a vote on the issue by the nine-member vestry.

Instead, the Rev. Walter C. Simmons, pastor of the church in the Cromwood-Coventry neighborhood near Perring Parkway, delayed the decision, telling the group of almost 150 neighbors that he would organize a forum for further discussion.

But Jim Westervelt, 48, who has lived in the community most of his life, urged church members to proceed with the decision. "Say no to it and let's get on with it and find solutions that are compatible with the community."

The crowd, carrying signs reading, "Stop the Proposal Now," cheered in agreement.

Ruth C. Franklin, senior warden of the vestry, wasn't persuaded. "We want to give the best decision possible," she said before the group went into a closed meeting to discuss other church matters.

The neighbors learned a month ago about the pastor's proposal to rent the four-bedroom rectory, in which he resides alone, to Oxford House, a national group that sponsors residences for recovering alcoholics and addicts.

The $2,000-a-month rental income would help the financially strapped St. Margaret's, Simmons said, with money going toward his living expenses when he moves out of the community, church maintenance and contributions to the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

But residents say they are worried about the safety of their quiet, 45-year-old community of mostly dead-end streets. Since 1957, St. Margaret's has served as a community center.

"For 40 years, I've always felt safe," said resident Lucille Dickerson. "It's not right after all those years."

J. Paul Molloy, a founder of the first Oxford House in Montgomery County in 1975, said community opposition is not unusual but that Oxford House has won all 23 legal challenges against it.

In a decision last year, the U.S. Supreme Court said a federal law against discrimination in housing does not allow local governments to exclude group homes by defining what constitutes "family."

Barbara Rhoda, who has lived in Cromwood for three years, has no problems with Oxford House. "I'm 100 percent behind it," the mother of five said earlier this week. "These are people who want to change their lives. If they're going to mess up, they don't do it there. They go back to their old neighborhood."

Pub Date: 8/21/96

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