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Proposed hotel too tall for site near Maryland airport

AOPA has strongly urged the city council of College Park, Maryland, to make approval of a hotel proposed for construction on land near the city airport conditional on the hotel’s height being reduced by 35 feet to avoid a potential aircraft collision hazard.

As planned, the $115 million, 276-room Hotel at the University of Maryland "significantly penetrates" FAA obstruction surfaces around the College Park Airport, AOPA wrote in a letter to College Park Mayor Andrew M. Fellows.

The association urged that the hotel only be approved if the structure is capped at 198 feet above mean sea level—not 233 feet msl as now planned—and that the developer, David Hillman, first obtain a "no hazard/no obstacle" determination from the FAA based on an agency study of whether the proposed structure would be a hazard to aviation under Part 77 regulations.

AOPA, with 5,782 members in Maryland, is not opposed to construction of the hotel, wrote John Collins, AOPA manager of airport policy, in the Nov. 24 letter to the mayor. "We do, however, disagree with the proposed height of the project and respectfully request that the City Council take every action possible to protect the College Park Airport, its users and neighbors."

The potentially incompatible land use was raised in an Oct. 1 memo to the mayor and council from the College Park Airport Authority. The communication illustrated how the hotel would penetrate the Part 77 horizontal surface, placing the design at odds with FAA regulations and raising liability questions.

"Reducing the height to meet FAA criteria is probably going to require eliminating floors," the memo said.

If the FAA were to declare the structure a presumed hazard, the action would create "serious potential legal liability" for parties including the proponent, owners, and "any government agency permitting construction," the memo advised the city officials.

State aviation officials applying similar state-of-Maryland regulations would also make a determination of a hazard, it added.

In August, the Washington Post reported that the university had been granted permission to transfer approximately three acres of land to the University of Maryland College Park Foundation for the project, envisioned as a hotel with high-ceiling ballroom, restaurants, 276 guest rooms, and a business incubator "where students can launch start-up companies." The site is opposite the university’s main entrance, on Route 1.

Hillman, the developer, is the CEO of Southern Management Corp., a large real estate management company.

AOPA will also express its concerns to officials in Prince George’s County, which has ultimate authority to address a height variance for the proposed hotel, Collins said. He credited Airport Support Network volunteer Lee Sommer with working closely with AOPA and the airport authority on the issue.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Airport Advocacy, Airport, Advocacy

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