UPPER MARLBORO – After receiving testimony from a group of pilots concerned about the height of a planned 10-story, 300-room hotel and conference center across the street from the University of Maryland campus, the Prince George’s County Planning Board unanimously approved an amended detailed site plan for the structure. The approved plan allows the developer, […]
UPPER MARLBORO – After receiving testimony from a group of pilots concerned about the height of a planned 10-story, 300-room hotel and conference center across the street from the University of Maryland campus, the Prince George’s County Planning Board unanimously approved an amended detailed site plan for the structure.
The approved plan allows the developer, Southern Management Company Corporation, Inc., owned by David Hillman, to construct a 405,000-square-foot mixed-use building which will include the hotel, 57,000 square feet of retail and a 902-space parking garage, despite a staff recommendation to include only 856 parking spaces.
Planning Board Chair Elizabeth Hewlett said the board recognized the applicant’s need for parking because the structure will also serve as a regional conference center.
Staff also recommended disapproval of a large electronic message center sign to be placed on the side of the building, but Arthur Horne, an attorney from the Law Offices of Shipley & Horne, P.A., which represents Southern Management, said the signs are a trademark of Hillman’s hotels.
“(Hillman) should be entitled to have his logo on his building,” Horne said.
Horne then presented considerations from Southern Management, which the board included in the approved plan. The considerations allow the board to approve a message board if Southern Management reduces its size and relocates it to face Greenhouse Drive on the southern side of the hotel.
Prior to approval, several pilots who frequently fly into and out of College Park Airport, the longest continuously operational airport in the world, asked the board to tighten up the language to ensure the hotel will be no more than 198 feet tall above mean sea level, a requirement of the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA has ruled the structure would have “no substantial adverse effect” in a letter dated March 4, 2015.
But in emails to the board the pilots said the detailed site plan shows the building penetrating airspace. While the approved site plan requires the developer to revise its plans to show a building less than or equal to 198 feet above mean sea level, the pilots wanted the board to include a condition stating: “no building, structure or natural feature shall be constructed, altered, maintained or allowed to grow greater than 198 feet AMSL (126 feet above ground level).”
“Compliance is simply sending in the form. You need to do nothing else. The FAA has no enforcement authority whatsoever,” said Jack Robson, chair of the College Park Airport Authority. “The states have that right. Because it is with the state, and they have given you the zoning authority, you folks are the enforcers. It needs to be there.”
The College Park City Council also requested the additional condition.
“Include the entire verbiage,” said Terry Schum, director of planning, community and economic development for the city. “(Not including the wording) would be analogous to doing a traffic study and not including the trip cap.”
Debra Borden, associate general counsel for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), said she agreed with Horne that the height variance procedure does not fall under the responsibility of the board.
“What we do is we certify site plans and then the permit application goes in and that is what the permit application will be judged against—our certified site plan. That’s it,” Borden said. “We are not going to go out 20 years from now and start measuring trees to see if there is a tree on top of that building that exceeds. That is not actually something that we can do. We can’t enforce that second part, we really can’t. If something happened and the building permit plans exceed the 198, then yes, they would have to do something about it. Either they are going to have to fix it or they are going to have to go to the FAA and get approval and come back to us. We don’t have to say that.”
Robson said Hillman has done a “great job” complying with the FAA regulations, but he remains concerned about what would happen if Hillman died and someone else took over management.
“If they make a change, they have to re-file, but the FAA has no authority to stop (development),” Robson said. “The law says you have to file. Evidently the Planning Board doesn’t think they can stop it. But if they don’t put it in there, then what does the county go back to look at when they are reviewing the permits?”
Hewlett, a former principal in the law firm of Shipley, Horne & Hewlett, P.A., said she thought Horne and Southern Management adequately engaged the public and the city, and said she thinks the approved plan meets the needs of all parties involved.
“It looks like we have a plan that satisfies FAA, that satisfies the airport, that satisfies the pilots, that satisfies the city of College Park. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen all of that in one case. On top of it, you have what I see is a beautiful hotel,” Hewlett said. “We have a shortage of these conference centers in Prince George’s County. Everyone has to go to Baltimore or D.C. Now they can come here. We should have something and it’s enough distance so that everybody wins.”
Hewlett also said the plan sufficiently caps the height of the building at 198 feet above mean sea level.
“It is (clearly stated),” Hewlett said. “A cap is a cap, is a cap, is a cap.”