St. Rita's School

St. Rita’s School, which has been empty since the school closed in 2006, is located on Dunleer Road in Historic Dundalk.

After hearing five witnesses’ testimony in favor of a nonprofit’s project which would redevelop the abandoned St. Rita’s School, the county’s board of appeals was scheduled to hear opposing voices this Tuesday after the Eagle went to press.

At last week’s hearing, witnesses who were called up by the Family Crisis Center, a local nonprofit attempting to rebuild the Dunmanway campus into “bridge” housing for abused people who are transitioning back into normal lives, described the redevelopment as a beneficial project for both homeowners in the surrounding Old Dundalk and Dunlogan communities, as well as Dundalk and county residents who have suffered through abusive relationships.

“Things are going to be renovated, at no cost” to the neighbors, Amy Menzer, the executive director of Dundalk Renaissance, testified at last Thursday’s hearing, the first in an appeal of the decision of an Administrative Law Judge who struck down the crisis center’s “Nest” housing project this summer.

Menzer said Dundalk Renaissance, a nonprofit which aims to strengthen Dundalk’s economic landscape, is supporting the “Nest” project, as the organization believes the redevelopment will do good by the neighborhood by filling the uninhabited property, which has been abandoned since St. Rita’s School closed in 2006, while keeping home values in the surrounding area high.

She said filling in the abandoned property, which she and other witnesses testified has been a magnet for crime due to its vacancy, has been a hope of Dundalk Renaissance, but the group has disapproved of previous proposals, such as a 100-bed addiction treatment center, for fear of dropping home values on Dunglow and Dunleer, which border the St. Rita’s church campus.

“We have vandals that are breaching into” the currently vacant buildings which the crisis center’s “Nest” would redevelop, and others who are “doing things that you don’t want to know about” in the structures, William Perry, a member of St. Rita’s Church’s board of corporators, testified, also noting that the number of attendees at church services there has dwindled since its “heyday” in the 1960s, and the “Nest” using a handful of parking spaces shared with the church would not cause parking to spill out onto neighboring roads.

The use of parking spaces has been a prime fear of the project’s critics, who have vocally suggested the project would overload available street parking spaces in the area. When the “Nest” project was ruled against in August, Baltimore County Administrative Law Judge Maureen E. Murphy ruled it would “create congestion in surrounding roads and streets through traffic and parking.”

Amie Post, the executive director of Family Crisis Center, testified last week she believed the center was “not heard properly” at the summer hearing as far as the number of parking spaces which would be filled at St. Rita, noting that she believes only about six of the 12 tenants at “Nest” would have vehicles at any given time, and most of the crisis center’s total of 20 staff would be parking at its current, separate campus up Dunmanway during working hours.

“I can’t imagine that we would create some kind of ruckus that would require this double parking, triple parking that people are worried about,” Post said.

James Shea, a lawyer representing a few of the project’s dissenters, asked Post if the “Nest” would have a “no guests allowed” policy, as visitors to the 12 residents could take up parking spaces.

Post said there was no current guest policy drafted yet, but said she did not anticipate many visitors, also adding the center would have an “easier time” removing residents who violate the program they would be enrolled in, and would assist them in leaving.

“There’s somewhat of a perception that we’re running.a frat house, handing them the keys and saying ‘here’s your beer card’,” Post said, reiterating that the residents are “more like you and me than they are like anyone else,” in response to some dissenters’ belief that the “Nest” would become magnet for crime.

“When I look at what risk looks like, it’s having an abandoned building” at the location, Post said, calling the vacant schoolhouse and convent, which would be razed for the project, a “beacon of coming to make trouble.”

She testified that a survey conducted by a public affairs firm, which claimed 81.5% of over 5,000 residents surveyed supported the Family Crisis Center’s plans and 13% oppose the plans, found a concentration of opposition to the project down the road on Dunglow.

The appeals hearing was scheduled to continue on Tuesday, Nov. 23, when the Eagle went to press this week. The crisis center was to submit additional evidence, and then Shea was to prevent his side of the case on Tuesday, leaving room for statements from neighborhood residents, appeals board member Deborah Dopkins, who lead Thursday’s proceedings, said last week.