Planners recommend Wyndham Vote is unanimous despite violation of master plan

Residents jeer decision

City Council must make final decision on 48-story hotel

October 28, 1997|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

After a five-hour hearing, the Baltimore Planning Commission voted unanimously last night to back baking mogul John S. Paterakis' controversial plan to build a Wyndham Hotel at Inner Harbor East.

The 7-0 vote means the commission is recommending that City Council approve two bills that would allow construction of the controversial 48-story hotel -- even though it violates height restrictions in a widely accepted master plan.

"We need this project for the city from the perspective of convention business and overall economic development," said Peter Auchincloss, a commission member.

Several residents moaned and jeered as the vote was taken after several hours of spirited discussion on the issue in a packed city planning conference room. About 40 people testified against the hotel last night. Only a handful spoke in favor of the project.

The vote thrilled the hotel's developers.

"I'm elated. It was a big hurdle in this long process to get this approval," said Michael Beatty, development director for Paterakis' H&S Properties Inc.

The vote came after the head of Baltimore Development Corp. spoke in favor of the proposed hotel at the hearing that attracted about 100 people.

M. Jay Brodie, president of BDC, asked the commission to focus on whether the site is appropriate for a 750-room hotel and whether its design is appropriate for the proposed location.

He said that despite master plan specifications limiting waterfront development to 18 stories, it was always the city's intention to have a number of high towers at strategic points along the harbor basin.

He declined to elaborate on the city's past intentions. But he acknowledged that the proposal faces opposition by some residents of East Baltimore, who say the hotel is too tall.

The master plan -- which had the support of city officials, landowners and the residents of East Baltimore -- specified that no building within the Inner Harbor East urban renewal area would be more than 18 stories.

"It's everyone's intention to maintain the [height] controls of the master plan," Brodie said. "This will not be the first of many [high-rises] to be constructed. It will be a landmark."

But opponents argued that the site selected by Paterakis, south of Little Italy at President and Lancaster streets, is not suitable for a hotel of its magnitude. They pointed to the city's urban renewal plan for the area, adopted in May 1990, that prohibits construction of any structure taller than 180 feet (or 18 stories) on the waterfront.

Klaus Philipsen of the American Institute of Architects said he was reluctantly opposing the proposed Wyndham because of its height and density. He also criticized the process by which plans for the hotel were developed.

"Master plans provide a measure of predictability. If we go ahead with this hotel, we would amputate the urban renewal plan without saying what the new plan for this area would be."

He said that he never heard of the city's intent -- as described by Brodie -- to allow for large buildings at scattered sites along the waterfront.

Other opponents also expressed concern about the cost of the Wyndham to Baltimore taxpayers, who just a few years ago spent more than $21 million to construct streets, utilities, bulkheads and a marina at Inner Harbor East for what was then Paterakis' blueprint for height-restricted housing, offices and shops.

Much of that infrastructure would have to be dug up to build the hotel, again at the expense of city taxpayers.

Before construction can begin, the City Council must pass legislation to allow Paterakis' development team to reconfigure parcels of land and exceed the 180-foot height limit for building on the waterfront. The legislation would permit a hotel up to 505 feet tall, about 50 stories.

Some tourism industry experts, city residents and state politicians contend the hotel site is too far from the newly expanded Convention Center. But supporters of the Wyndham Hotel proposal -- led by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- have repeatedly said the site would be the catalyst for development east of the Inner Harbor.

At the hearing, developers submitted their amended designs for the hotel to the planning commission, showing it to be 48 stories or 505 feet tall, making it the city's second tallest building.

The 520-foot Legg Mason Tower, at Pratt and Charles streets, is the tallest.

The Planning Commission, a nine-member panel that is dominated by Schmoke appointees, heard testimony for and against the Wyndham before its vote last night.

One member, Alan Yuspeh, was absent last night, and the chairman, Stelios Spiliadis, did not vote.

A handful of residents spoke in favor of the hotel, including Roberto Marsili, president of the Little Italy Community Association, who cited the "beauty" of its design and the jobs it would bring to Baltimore.

Beatty said the Wyndham would provide 761 permanent jobs in Baltimore.

Schmoke is proposing more than $50 million in public subsidies for the Wyndham Hotel.

Developers are hoping to break ground in March.

The City Council's urban affairs and land-use committees are to hold hearings on the proposal next month.

The Planning Department recommended four amendments last night to the City Council bills.

One of the amendments would open Exeter Street to one-way traffic. A second amendment would make roof and awnings subject to the approval of the planning commission.

Another amendment specifies that any changes to the design of the structure would require approval of the mayor and City Council. As originally worded, design changes needed approval only from the Planning Commission. The city planners also recommended provisions to widen Aliceanna Street to accommodate a left-turn lane.

Pub Date: 10/28/97

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