After months of discussion and tweaking, developers and architects working on Frederick’s proposed downtown hotel and conference center cleared a “major hurdle” Thursday with the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.
“Tonight was a major hurdle that we passed after many, many workshops and a lot of good back-and-forth between the Historic Preservation Commission and the development team,” developer Pete Plamondon Jr. said after commissioners voted 5-1 to approve a Level 1 review of the multimillion-dollar project.
The Level 1 review includes details regarding the height, mass, scale and general layout of the four-story, 180-room hotel, 20,000-square-foot conference center, neighboring retail building and courtyard planned for 200-212 E. Patrick St., along Carroll Creek.
Richard Griffin, the city’s director of economic development, said the approved plans will now go to the city’s Planning Commission. The commissioners will review roads, utilities and other details to help develop a site plan. The plans will then go back to the Historic Preservation Commission for a Level 2 review, which Griffin said includes the finer elements of the design, such as materials, lighting, landscaping and other details.
The commissioners held four workshops since July with architects from Bates Architects and Peter Fillat Architects, and developers with Plamondon Hospitality Partners and gave feedback on various elements of the design and construction, according to the guidelines of the Frederick Town Historic District.
Running parallel to those efforts are meetings between the project partners, key stakeholders, members of local preservation and cultural groups, the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, and the Maryland Historical Trust. So far one informational meeting was held in late October and was well-attended, according to officials who went. The meetings are required as part of the Maryland Historical Trust Act of 1985’s consultation process, which requires state agencies to consult with the trust on projects receiving assistance. The downtown hotel project is set to receive money from the department.
Several members of the public who spoke at Thursday’s meeting expressed concern that members of the trust and Department of Housing and Community Development have not weighed in on details of the project included in the Level 1 review.
Anthony Moscato, chairman of the Frederick Preservation Trust, a local preservation advocacy group, asked the commissioners to postpone their decision on the review until those officials have full discussions about various studies completed to determine the impact of the building and other mitigation details.
Commissioner Matt Bonin agreed that the trust’s feedback is important to the project and served as the lone opposition vote to the Level 1 approval as a result.
Other speakers from the public expressed concerns about the height and massing of the project. Frederick resident John Menke said the hotel as designed could block the view of the city’s clustered spires. Jane Weir, a longtime opponent of the project, expressed concern about the lack of a solid 3-D design for the project and worries about the hotel taking up the entire area and disrupting the streetscape.
Most of the commissioners said they understand those concerns but do not believe the size is a major issue.
“I’m generally in favor of this project. It’s a hotel, it’s not a house, it’s not a small shop,” Commissioner Stephen Parnes said of the size. “This is [a] major, major structure in our downtown.”
Commission Chairman Dan Lawton agreed with Parnes’ assessment and pointed out that the commission’s job is primarily to ensure the developers do not “plop down a suburban Marriott hotel” in the downtown historic district. He said the architects and developers have listened to the concerns of the commissioners in the many workshops they held, made modifications based on their feedback, and are expected to make more.
The project is set to come to fruition with both public and private dollars. The city, county and state are slated to contribute a total $31 million for infrastructure, parking land acquisition and site preparation, and the developers are set to pay the remaining construction and building costs.
The project has been in the works for years and made significant headway with the unveiling of the first design in the spring and a vote from the Historic Preservation Commission in September to allow demolition of the historic Birely Tannery building on the site. The vote gave the green light for the preferred design, which does not include the tannery.
Plans for preserving the elements of the site will come from the Maryland Historical Trust and Department of Housing and Community Development and will be incorporated into a memorandum of agreement with the city as part of the project plans.
Griffin said the organizations are set to host another meeting Tuesday similar to the one last month at which more mitigation details will be discussed. The invitation-only meetings are not open to the public.