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Business & Developmentby Ed Gunts1:32 pmMar 23, 20210

Asbury House, separated from church property, goes on the market for more than $1 million

Despite a pending court case, the historic brownstone on Mount Vernon Place is listed for sale

Above: Asbury House was named after one of the early bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the U.S.

There’s a new residential listing on East Mount Vernon Place, and it sounds pretty sweet.

An Italianate Renaissance mansion offering “12,000 square feet of living space on five levels [that] still retains its glorious original details, including a curved statement staircase, elaborate woodwork, ceiling murals and third-floor domed ceiling.”

But wait a minute.

Isn’t this Asbury House, the 1855 mansion that’s connected to Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church and has housed the church offices for decades?

The very same mansion that’s named after Francis Asbury, one of the first two bishops of the U.S. Methodist Episcopal Church?

Is it really for sale? Can it be sold free and clear of legal entanglements?

Those questions came up during a recent meeting of the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association (MVBA), whose directors have been monitoring the status of the church and the mansion next door.

In the Courts

Last December, the MBVA appealed a decision by the Planning Commission to allow a New Jersey-based developer to subdivide the Asbury House from the church so he could sell it separately.

Neighborhood leaders argued that separating the church from the office building would make it almost impossible to maintain or renovate the historic church itself.

Without the parking lot that’s behind the Asbury House, the church doesn’t have space even to store a dumpster or provide access for the disabled.

Residents say they didn’t get to testify during virtual hearing on Mount Vernon church (10/30/20)

Attorneys for the developer, Joseph Novoseller of Aria Legacy Group, filed a motion to dismiss the community’s appeal in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Last month, Judge Christopher L. Panos dismissed the motion, meaning the community’s appeal will be heard. If the association’s appeal prevails, it could mean that Asbury House cannot be subdivided and sold separately, at least without additional public hearings.

“The motion to dismiss was dismissed, which is good for us,” said MVBA board member Steve Shen at the meeting. He said the case would probably be heard next month or in early May.

“There’s a lot of work to be done before [the court date], and work means a lot of billable hours. So if anybody feels moved, you’re most welcome to donate on our website to our legal fund,” Shen said. “We feel that we have a very strong case.”

Lakewood, N.J. developer Joseph Novoseller has emerged as a possible buyer of the historic United Methodist Church on Mount Vernon Place in Baltimore. (LinkedIn)

Joseph Novoseller, a Lakewood, N.J., developer, fought the MVBA’s appeal of the Planning Commission decision. (LinkedIn)

Buyer Beware

The listing for Asbury House does not mention any of these developments. The listing is by Ellicott City-based Red Barn Realty LLC.

The listing for $1.049 million tells prospective buyers that “the mansion was recently subdivided from Mt. Vernon UM Church,” but “the current tax ID does not yet reflect the subdivision.”

It says the property’s OR-2 zoning permits “a variety of uses” and the building is being sold in “as-is” condition. It includes 19 photos showing the exterior and interior.

From a real estate listing for Asbury House on Balt0more's Mt. Vernon Place. (vyllahome.com)

From a real estate listing for Asbury House on Baltimore’s Mount Vernon Place.

Who is the Seller?

Has Novoseller’s Aria Legacy bought the church and Asbury House from its longtime owner, the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church?

Is the developer now following through with his plan to flip the mansion for a profit, despite the pending court hearing?

Novoseller and his local attorney, Caroline L. Hecker, did not respond to requests for information.

The directors of the MVBA say they don’t know if the property has changed hands, although they note that Aria Legacy’s motion to dismiss the case – and willingness to spend money on legal fees to fight the appeal – provides a clue that Novoseller is involved in the property.

“There’s no record of it having legally changed hands yet, but a lot of times the state database is late to be updated. So if it had transacted in the last week or so, then that would probably not be reflected on the website,” Shen said during the meeting.

On yet another website, eacommercial.com, the church and Asbury House are listed as being offered for sale together. That website says a sale is “pending.”

The broker is Josh Halbedel. No price is mentioned, but area residents say they were told that both the church and Asbury House were going for $1 million to $1.1 million last fall.

That’s the same or less than the figure Red Barn and EA Commercial are now seeking for Asbury House alone.

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