Neighbors sue to block harbor hotel Opponents say city broke state law in approving project

41-story Wyndham at issue

Coalition says hearing by land-use panel was unfairly conducted

December 31, 1997|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A coalition of neighbors filed suit yesterday to block construction of the 41-story Wyndham Hotel, alleging that the city violated state law when it approved the project.

The suit filed in Baltimore Circuit Court alleges that when the project was reviewed by the City Council's land-use committee Nov. 20, city officials did not allow opponents to ask questions and did not keep a transcript of the hearing -- both required under state land-use laws.

The lawsuit filed by the Scarlett Place Residential Condominium Association and the Waterfront Coalition -- an umbrella group of nine homeowner and business groups -- asks that the ordinances enacted as a result of that hearing be stricken from the city's books.

Carolyn Boittnott, a Butchers Hill resident and spokeswoman for the Waterfront Coalition, said the group is concerned that the Wyndham Hotel would dominate the skyline, dwarf surrounding neighborhoods and hurt the atmosphere of nearby communities.

"Overall, we'd like to see a smaller hotel there, one that would be compatible with the surrounding community," Boittnott said.

She said that the group would prefer a 180-foot-high hotel, which would be about 18 stories.

The 19-member council passed two bills Dec. 15 that lifed a ban imposed in 1990 an any structure taller than 180 feet on the waterfront. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke signed the bills into law two days later.

But John C. Murphy, a lawyer for the Waterfront Coalition, said City Council members violated state law when they refused him permission to question city officials and representatives of H & S Properties Inc. before passing the legislation.

He said state law also requires the City Council to make specific findings of fact as to whether the land-use changes being considered are compatible with existing zoning codes. Because the council hearing was not transcribed, it is impossible for a court to ensure that proper procedures were followed, Murphy said.

"You could go to a hearing in Emmitsburg or Snow Hill and you'd have the right to cross-examine witnesses and there would be a transcript. It's a matter of state law, and Baltimore City is not exempt from state law," Murphy said.

Michael S. Beatty, development director for H & S Properties, which proposed the hotel, declined to comment yesterday.

Alonza Williams, a spokesman for Schmoke, said the mayor also declined to comment.

Otho M. Thompson, city solicitor, called the lawsuit a "novel approach" and said he would confer with city zoning experts in the next few days to come up with a response.

"We'll be examining this very carefully over the next few days," Thompson said.

He said it is unclear whether the litigation might delay construction of the hotel.

When the council returns from holiday recess Jan. 26, it is expected to receive Schmoke's proposal outlining how much public money would go into paying for the hotel.

Hotel developers, led by local bakery executive John Paterakis Sr., told the city in July that they would need about $50 million in public subsidies. That amount could change, developers say, because the financial package is being negotiated with the city.

Pub Date: 12/31/97

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