Baltimore County set to purchase, maintain historic Perry Hall estate

Officials contemplate renovation of mansion

April 16, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Council is expected to approve tonight the purchase of the Perry Hall mansion, once the most prominent estate in the county and the home where early Methodist leaders gathered before voting to separate from the Church of England.

The purchase price for the six-bedroom Georgian mansion, owned by the Thomas W. Mele Revocable Trust, is $335,000. The home has belonged to the Mele family since the 1960s.

Thomas Mele II, the trustee, said he is pleased that the public will take possession and that the building's historic splendor will be maintained.

"My greatest concern was that it would be in the hands of an entity that could perform the work as needed," he said.

The mansion served as the centerpiece around which Perry Hall was built. Its image is engraved on Perry Hall High School class rings. But because it has been privately owned for its entire 227 years, few Perry Hall residents have seen the mansion up close and fewer still have been inside.

The mansion will probably be used for small-scale community events. Early plans to convert the mansion to a banquet facility to be used for weddings and other events were scrapped because of community concerns about increased traffic and noise.

"The neighborhood feels, if the county does not buy this, it likely will be bought by a developer, who can build right up to the edge of building without doing anything to renovate it," said David Marks, president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association.

News of the impending purchase touched on anxiety among neighborhood residents about high-density development around the mansion. Residents met with county officials last month to voice their concerns.

The county has discussed seeking the assistance of developers to renovate the mansion, specifically to bring water and sewer to the building. Vince C. Pecora, a neighborhood resident, said that idea prompted fears that developers would lend a hand in hopes of gaining future development concessions.

The neighborhood around the mansion contains a few large, undeveloped lots. Zoning allows for a maximum of two houses per acre.

"We're fine with that," Pecora said. "We're not fine with town homes and apartments."

Karin Brown, the county's district community planner for the area, said one residential development is in the works and will conform to the zoning.

State Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat, was instrumental in efforts to buy the mansion. He helped secure $400,000 in state bonding to help pay for renovations.

The Mele family has done extensive renovation work -- especially inside the mansion -- but the age and size of the building make it too large a project for one family to handle, Mele said. Full-scale renovation will cost up to $1.7 million and will probably be spread over several years.

"Our hope is that once the mansion is renovated and open to the public, it will really give Perry Hall the sense of centrality that's been missing all these years," Marks said. "We're a great area, but there isn't this historical perspective that you need in a community."

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