The developer of a proposed luxury hotel in College Park has been forced to redesign the project because its original height did not comply with federal aviation regulations and was considered a “hazard” to air navigation.
Southern Management had planned to build a 13-story hotel and conference center, but the proposed building height encroached about 35 feet into the airspace of College Park Airport traffic.
The developer said it has cut back three floors to bring the building into compliance after learning about the height restrictions from the Federal Aviation Administration in November.
The proposed four-diamond hotel is planned on a three-acre site across from the main entrance to the University of Maryland at Route 1 and Paint Branch Parkway in Prince George’s County, less than a mile from the runway of the historic airport.
Founded in 1909, the airport was used by the Wright Brothers. Today it is home to about 47 aircraft and is a general aviation gateway to as many as 4,000 takeoffs and landings annually.
John Cohan, director of marketing for Southern Management, said he is certain the changes “will accommodate any of the concerns.”
“We were able to redesign the building in a way that we actually added to the number of rooms,” Cohan said. “And one thing for sure that is not being sacrificed is the level of quality and finishes and features. Those are critical to our design, so we are not compromising whatsoever on that.”
Federal regulations set a limit of 198 feet above sea level for construction at the site of the proposed hotel. Plans initially called for the hotel to be 233 feet, exceeding the FAA and Maryland standard. Cohan said the redesign brings the height to or below the FAA standard.
The redesign, however, came with a hefty price tag and resulted in a delay in the project’s schedule of at least two months. The cost of the hotel and conference center, first estimated at $115 million, is expected to be about $120 million, Cohan said.
The Hotel at the University of Maryland is viewed as an important economic development project that could accelerate the revitalization efforts of the Route 1 Corridor. It would be the largest and most luxurious hotel in northern Prince George’s, adding nearly 300 hotel rooms and a few fine-dining options in an area that is served mostly by fast-food and chain restaurants.
Backed by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, the project was expected to move quickly through the county’s approval process late last year. But the process was delayed after the developer unveiled the plans in August, and officials from the College Park community, the airport and others raised concerns about the building height and adverse impacts on the airport.
“This is a safety issue. People can be killed,” said Kurt Schneckenburger, a pilot who keeps an airplane in College Park. Schneckenburger said a 13-story building would have added another obstruction for pilots traveling to and from the airport.
The FAA and the Maryland Aviation Administration have been reviewing the project since last fall and working with the developer to address concerns. An FAA spokeswoman said this week that the agency continues to review the case.
“We appreciate the developer stepping back and trying to reconfigure the building to meet these restrictions so it would be safer for everyone,” said Kyle Lowe, an official with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which oversees airport operations.
The revised hotel design keeps the project’s original concept with a distinctive glass facade edging Route 1 and a banquet terrace with views of the university campus, but it will add a wing of hotel rooms.
The facility will have two large ballrooms with space for 1,000 people and meeting space throughout the complex for university conferences.
The developer has secured a lease with the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa, which has several locations in the Washington region. This would be Red Door’s first spa in Prince George’s. The developer also has leases to bring in Bagels ’n Grinds, Potomac Pizza and a restaurant from the owner of Franklin’s Restaurant, Brewery and General Store in historic Hyattsville. The complex will also have a U-Md. memorabilia shop near the lobby.
The project is set to go before the Prince George’s Planning Board this month. If is approved and construction proceeds as scheduled, the hotel could open at the end of next year.