Shorter Ritz on way

Developer intends to comply with 71-foot restriction

Redesigning a hotel

Federal Hill residents applaud Fisher's decision

Real estate

July 31, 1999|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

Thwarted in an attempt to lift height restrictions on new construction around historic Federal Hill, a Florida developer now intends to redesign a Ritz-Carlton hotel proposed for south of the Inner Harbor to comply with existing limitations.

Developer Neil Fisher said the redesigned $100 million luxury lodging and condominium project will meet the 71-foot height limitation that is in place for a parcel adjacent to the Rusty Scupper restaurant.

"We're taking one last look to see if something can be designed to meet the height restrictions," Fisher said. "I'm still optimistic. If we can configure the Ritz-Carlton to meet the special needs of the site, we will. If not, then we will look to other uses. But I'm not going to walk away."

Fisher's plans to redesign the 250-room hotel signals that the lodging project -- one of nine containing a total of nearly 3,500 rooms planned for downtown -- remains alive.

Late last month, after a decision by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke not to lift the height limits in effect through June 2007, Fisher had said the project was in serious jeopardy.

Fisher had proposed a 26-story hotel measuring 270 feet in height, more than three times taller than the historic hill.

Fisher said the new design by New Jersey architectural firm Michael Graves & Associates will likely feature a horseshoe-shaped building. Graves anticipates having a new design ready within the next few weeks, Fisher said.

Mayor enthusiastic

"I know that Ritz-Carlton produces high-quality projects around the country, and I am sure they will come up with a unique and exciting design for Baltimore City that stays within the height limitations for that area," said Schmoke, through spokesman Clinton Coleman.

Like the vacant, six-story building that currently occupies the site, the redesigned Ritz-Carlton will likely be a large squat structure that will block views of the Inner Harbor waterfront from Key Highway.

The redesign will also be reminiscent of a three-building plan Fisher proposed in February but later withdrew from consideration, after residents objected to aspects of the proposal. Fisher also claimed that the design failed to meet some Ritz-Carlton criteria.

"I was disappointed when he pulled that off the table," said Sen. George W. Della Jr., whose district includes Federal Hill. "I think the original proposal, if tinkered with slightly, could have been acceptable to everyone."

Fisher said he will closely involve Ritz-Carlton development executives in the design process so the project meets the criteria of the Atlanta-based luxury hotel company, which is a subsidiary of Bethesda-based Marriott International Inc.

Federal Hill residents applauded the move to redesign the hotel.

"Everyone supports the concept of a hotel there," said David Marshall, past president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association. "The concerns with the project have been over the height and the blockage of views."

Proposal was divisive

Fisher's plan to develop a 26-story structure had divided Federal Hill and neighboring communities. Although many residents supported the project on the basis that a Ritz-Carlton would increase property values, opponents strenuously objected to development that would rise above the hill.

Marshall added that two studies have been completed to blueprint the amount of square footage and types of projects that could be completed on the land, which once belonged to Bethlehem Steel Corp.

The studies indicate that up to 500,000 square feet of space could be developed, while keeping within height and other limitations, Marshall said.

"Evidently he has listened to the mayor and the community," Della said of Fisher. "I hope he continues to work with them. It's to his, the community's and the city's benefit.

"It's certainly a step in the right direction."

Pub Date: 7/31/99

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