The growing congregation of a Bolton Hill synagogue is planning a move to a site in North Baltimore where a little-noticed, unused Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. substation has stood for nearly 50 years.
Members of the Bolton Street Synagogue unveiled plans this week to move to the 4-acre site in the 200 block of W. Cold Spring Lane. They hope to move as early as next year.
The congregation, which has met in the 1300 block of Bolton St. since 1986, was greeted Monday night with a warm reception from about 80 residents of the surrounding Roland Park and Evergreen neighborhoods.
Julius W. Eldridge, president of the Evergreen Community Association, said he and others were pleased to see the site's new design, which he considers an improvement over an earlier one.
The group had been concerned over saving an open "North Meadow" on the property, which lies behind a Royal Farms store. The land is between the back yards of properties on Kendall Road and Stony Run.
The architects designed the synagogue to reach 24 feet into the green space, leaving the rest untouched.
The congregation has grown to 140 families in 14 years. It is buying the land and building from BGE for an undisclosed sum, said Gary Felser, the Bolton Street Synagogue president. The property is under contract, and the deal pending, he said.
Felser estimated the cost of the project - acquisition, design, construction and move - at about $2.5 million.
BGE attempted to convert the building into an assisted-living facility for seniors, a use that neighbors successfully opposed a few years ago.
The synagogue's architect had an unusual building block to work with: a brick BGE substation built in the 1950s, but never used.
Architect Charles Alexander plans the main building as the core of the new synagogue, with rooms added to increase usable space to 15,000 square feet.
His model shows the main building as a multipurpose hall, with the sanctuary in an addition next to it. For special services, such as those during High Holy Days, the sanctuary would open into the main hall. The site design calls for 70 parking spaces.
Neighbors repeated earlier concerns about the plans, namely the location of an industrial kitchen in the building, spillover parking on residential streets and noise from outside celebrations.
"Move the kitchen," said Brian Craver of Evergreen.
The irony of putting a synagogue near Roland Park, an area where Jewish homeowners were not welcome 50 years ago, was not lost on some congregation members.
"When we told people about a synagogue in Roland Park, they said, `You're kidding, right?' " said Ken Karpay, a synagogue member and Roland Park resident.
For most, a sense of optimism prevailed.
Said Steve Shapiro: "I'm looking forward to worshiping here."