The proposed, multimillion-dollar Park Place development on West Street in Annapolis cleared a major hurdle last night when the Board of Appeals granted approval for the project to proceed, with some conditions.
The board's endorsement allows developer Jerome J. Parks to seek financing and tenants for the huge $150 million complex, slated to include a 225-room hotel, two office buildings, a 950-seat auditorium or theater, 200 condominiums or apartments, a 1,400-space parking garage and 50,000 square feet of retail space. The project will be built over 10 years on the 7-acre site bordering Westgate Circle.
Parks must decide if he will agree to the board's conditions, appeal them in Circuit Court or drop the project. The developer needed the board to approve several special exceptions on the property. He said he had not seen the final wording of the board's conditions imposed at last night's meeting and will make his decision soon.
"We are optimistic that we will be able to work with the conditions, but obviously we need to make sure," Parks said.
Park Place was approved by the Planning Commission in May and received tentative approval from the Board of Appeals on July 13.
Parks' attorney, Harry Blumenthal, said the board's requirement for step backs on the seven-story residential building is of most concern to the developer.
The board wants floors recessed at two levels, creating terraced rooftops that look like steps to "visually ameliorate the height," said the board's chairwoman Judith Billage.
"When you look at the building, instead of it going flat for that high, there will be two areas where it won't be flat and there will be some greenery," she explained.
The project's spokesman, Bob Kramer, said that this could pose a problem, if it results in a "significant loss of square footage or significant increase in construction costs."
The future of the project could hinge on whether the step backs work, Blumenthal said.
"I think that Jerry Parks is disinclined to file an appeal," Blumenthal added. "I think he would drop the project. It is either going to work with step backs or it won't work."
Kramer said that the developer was also concerned about the board's requirement that pedestrian areas be 50 percent shaded, mostly by trees.
The complex's internal pedestrian plaza is situated above the underground garage. While the developer may plant small trees in the plaza, large trees may not be feasible, Kramer said.
"It eliminates the possibility of having an outdoor concert or something like that" in the plaza because of the lack of visibility, he said. There is also "expense and risk involved in having large trees with large bulb areas implanted in the garage."
The developer was pleased with the board's decision to strike the Planning Commission's suggestion for a fountain at the north entrance of the hotel, which Kramer said was "inappropriate."
After meeting with residents and city officials, more than 30 major changes have been made to the project, Kramer said. Those changes have included staggered facades on the West Street office building and moving the hotel and restaurant to face Westgate Circle.
"We basically spent nine months making changes on this project based on community input," Kramer said. "As interest rates have been rising and time has been going by, we have really reached a point where continued delays or costly conditions could jeopardize the financial viability of the project."
Park Place, which Billage called the "the biggest project that has ever come into Annapolis," is a major component in the city's plan to revitalize the Inner West Street Corridor.
Under the board's decision, major changes and final design plans for the complex will have to be reviewed by the director of the city's Department of Planning and Zoning.
Changes in the uses of any of the complex's components must be approved by the Planning Commission.