City Council holds heated hearing on hotel Inner Harbor East site has advocates, detractors

November 21, 1997|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A heated Baltimore City Council hearing on the Wyndham Inner Harbor East Hotel attracted about 100 people last night, with the crowd evenly divided among those opposed to the waterfront project and those in favor of it.

Testimony focused on the size and impact of the 750-room hotel, which would cost $132.6 million and be financed with about $50 million in public subsidies.

With 48 stories, it would be the city's second-tallest building.

John Murphy, a lawyer for a coalition of several East Baltimore homeowner groups, told the council's Land Use Committee that approving the hotel would open the door to similar projects too large for their neighborhoods.

"What we believe will happen, if you allow this type of building outside the business district to the east, is you will have set a precedent that is impossible to ignore. This building will inevitability bring other high-rise buildings," Murphy said.

But Gia Blattermann, a spokeswoman for the Little Italy Owner-Resident Association, said the project will give her neighborhood an economic boost.

"I consider this a plus for Baltimore and am proud of the attention that it's bringing to the area," she said

Most of the heat during the session was generated by council members.

About two hours before Murphy stepped to the microphone, 1st District Councilwoman Lois Garey, committee chairwoman, pointedly told him be quiet when he stood in the audience and tried to speak.

Garey told him to sit down because he was speaking out of turn.

"You'll get your chance, Mr. Murphy," she said.

Garey also rebuked Councilman John L. Cain for trying to question Michael Beatty, vice president for development for baking mogul John Paterakis' H&S Properties, which proposed the hotel.

Cain tried to ask about a possible hotel site near the expanded Baltimore Convention Center, which many Wyndham opponents say would be a better site.

"If you wish to say I'm cutting you off, OK. I'm cutting you off," Garey told Cain. "There are other people who have questions just as important as yours."

When Cain continued to protest being cut off, a member of the council staff got up and shut off his microphone.

Proponents of the project, which is backed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, showed up last night wearing white buttons with red letters saying, "Win With Wyndham."

Opponents circulated copies of a glossy, brochure highlighting the costs of the project, its massive size and its distance from the convention center.

Critics say construction of the hotel would mean disregarding a carefully crafted land-use master plan and that the hotel would tower over much smaller buildings along the waterfront, destroying the neighborhood's character.

They noted about $20 million already has been spent on improvements and that the urban renewal plan, which was years in the making, limits building heights to 18 stories and hotels to a maximum of 350 rooms.

But Beatty defended the effort to scrap the master plan's land-use restrictions on the 5-acre site.

He said the hotel would be an economic boost for East Baltimore and bring jobs that will help the surrounding community.

"We do not want Inner Harbor East to be an island. We want it to embrace its neighbors and be part of the community," Beatty said.

The Baltimore Planning Commission voted unanimously Oct. 27 to back Paterakis' controversial plan.

Pub Date: 11/21/97

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