Residents to consider taller Ritz

Federal Hill board to negotiate relaxing 71-foot height limit

Neighbors split, 56-52

Fla. developer unveils plans for single tower that could rise 169 feet

April 07, 1999|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

In a significant compromise that could allow construction of a Ritz-Carlton hotel in South Baltimore, Federal Hill residents last night narrowly voted to consider a relaxation of height restrictions that have been in place since 1975.

Residents voted 56-52 to allow the board of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association to negotiate differences over the 71-foot height restriction with Florida developer Neil Fisher, who is proposing the 250-room luxury hotel for land adjacent to the Rusty Scupper restaurant.

The vote came after Fisher told Federal Hill residents that the project's two towers would rise 92 feet and 112 feet, surpassing the 82-foot height of historic Federal Hill.

"I've never had to deal with the emotionality associated with height restrictions," Fisher told more than 100 residents who packed Light Street Presbyterian Church. "Development is going to happen on this site. It may not be by Neil Fisher, it may not be Ritz-Carlton, but there will be development."

The $85 million lodging project is one of nine that developers have proposed to add hotel rooms downtown in response to the $151 million expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center and increases in business and tourist travel.

Despite the vote, many neighborhood residents adamantly oppose the idea of development that would rise above Federal Hill and block views of the Inner Harbor.

"If you let one person, one project, go up over the height restriction, then you can't come back ever again and tell another developer that they can't go above it," said Dick Stansbury, a Federal Hill resident.

"It's tempting to think of this as one building, as one hotel, as one project, and that the decision we make will have no impact," said Jerry Wachtel, another resident opposed to the project. "I think that is wrong and shortsighted."

The 71-foot height restriction has been in place since 1975, when the city and Bethlehem Steel Corp. agreed to covenants to control development. An abandoned six-story warehouse constructed by the steelmaker sits on the site.

The city has the power to revoke or alter the limitations at any time, however, before the covenants expire in June 2007.

Fisher said he decided to meet with the residents out of "respect."

"I could have gone to the Board of Estimates. I could have gone to the mayor and the governor and said `Here's the plan,' " Fisher said. " `Here's a single tower that's 200 feet tall.' But I didn't do that. I came to you to try to work with you so that we could jointly come up with a product that would work for you and work for us."

Fisher also told residents that he would consider acquiring a city-owned garage adjacent to the Rusty Scupper and shift the hotel slightly toward the restaurant. Under that plan, the garage would be demolished and its 120 parking spaces included as part of the hotel's 500-space garage.

The proposal to acquire the city garage would slightly lower the overall height of the hotel, but block views of the Inner Harbor from both the hill and houses around it. Fisher also, for the first time, presented detailed plans for a single hotel tower on the site. An architect from Michael Graves & Associates said a single tower would rise 15 stories, or 169 feet.

The nearby HarborView condominium tower -- which drew the wrath of residents both when it was proposed and since its completion -- is 27 stories, or 292 feet.

"Is there no economically viable hotel that can be built on the site without going above the height restrictions?," one man asked.

Fisher's response: "No."

Fisher reiterated that community support is critical to continuing with the hotel plans. "If you don't want us here, then we'll have to re-evaluate," he said.

Pub Date: 4/07/99

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.