Aberdeen planning board gives go-ahead to new hotel

The Aberdeen Planning Commission gave its approval Wednesday to a preliminary site plan for an extended-stay hotel within a mile of the main entrance to Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The hotel will be part of Aberdeen Exchange, a commercial development bordered by Newton Road, Route 715 and Route 40.

The five-story hotel will be Home2, a new brand by Hilton, Amy DiPietro of site engineer Morris & Ritchie Associates explained to the commission.

The hotel also will be next to a Royal Farms convenience store and gas station being built at Newton Road and Route 7. The Royal Farms plan was approved by the city council last summer, despite the concerns raised by one council member over allowing gasoline tanks in the city's wellhead protection area.

Hotel representatives noted their site will include a walking trail to the new Royal Farms.

"It caters to the traveling professional, extended stay, someone whose average stay is 5 to 7 nights," DiPietro said of the hotel.

The site will have 109 parking spaces, one per room. The plan is also required to have 5 percent parking islands and one tree for every 10 parking spaces.

Primary access will be via Newton Road, which connects Route 40 to Route 7 and parallels Route 715.

An illustration given the commission showed a blocky building with small windows. The hotel will include a café area, 320-square-feet suites, a fitness center, a walking trail, laundry facilities, an indoor pool and outdoor patios.

The building will also be LEED-certified, designating it as having specific environmentally-friendly features.

Brian Norris, chief operations officer for Cherry Cove Builders, which will develop the hotel, said Hilton plans to own a stormwater management pond behind the complex.

"We felt it was better to take on the pond and be responsible for its maintenance," Norris said.

He also said, "It benefits the hotel to be able to incorporate the trail into the pond area."

In St. Mary's County, where his company is based, Norris said the average length of a stay in an extended-stay hotel is 26 days.

"We have all the same players you all are seeing, Boeing and L3 and Lockheed Martin," he said, mentioning defense contractors who have opened offices at or near APG. "[Hotel guests] will come in and be on a project for an extended period of time."

Norris said Hilton was initially concerned about the location because of some abandoned houses and other apparent blight, but he said he is confident the hotel project will succeed.

"Knowing the transformation that is happening with [Route] 715, I felt confident it would be a good location," Norris said.

DiPietro said Hilton has built 14 Home2 properties and expects to have 100 by 2012.

Commission members were near unanimous in their support for the new hotel concept.

"This looks very promising to me," commission member Nancy Kosko said. "I'm excited about it."

Member Mark Schlottman agreed, saying, "It looks very nice."

City Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck, who is a liaison to the planning commission, said she has stayed in an extended-stay hotel twice and had a very positive experience.

"It's hard to even think of it as a hotel. It's almost like a little apartment," she added.

Train station briefing

In addition to approving the hotel plan, the planning commission received a briefing on the Aberdeen train station area master plan from Phyllis Grover, the city's planning and community development director.

The briefing was held in advance of a public hearing on the master plan Thursday evening.

The plan will take advantage of the state's designation of the area as "transit-oriented development," a concept described in a handout Grover gave to commission members.

"You may be wondering, 'What is TOD? What is transit-oriented development?'" Grover said.

"We were fortunate, last June, our train station was designated a TOD. Not all train stations are designated TOD," she added.

Grover and Kosko said they were surprised it has taken the project this long to start coming to fruition.

"I've been working on the train station 15 years, a very long time, to improve services there to create multi-modal services for the city," Grover said. "I've been working on it that long and I was pleased… We were very fortunate that the station itself has finally gotten into the public eye."

Kosko said progress could have been made on the plan earlier.

"It just boggles my mind that you've worked on this for 15 years, especially with BRAC," she said. "It just blows my mind that we didn't all get on the bandwagon a long time ago."

Grover agreed, saying, "They [government agencies] have a wonderful asset in our downtown, that Havre de Grace and Bel Air do not have…This is a very important asset to Harford County."

Thursday's public meeting on the plan was being sponsored by the Maryland Department of Transportation and the city of Aberdeen. For more on that meeting, check with http://www.exploreharford.com.

There have been several studies about the future of the station area, Grover said, including one funded by the Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor and Harford County government to look at the market and transit needs for the station.

MDOT and Maryland Transit Administration also funded a study, she said.

At some point, the Aberdeen station, which serves both MARC commuters and Amtrak passengers, will play a role in amendments to the development code and possible zoning changes for overlay districts, Grover explained.

"Certainly you will play an important role in the future," she told the planning commission.

Kosko encouraged members to go back and look at the city's transportation element plan, as much of the train station area plan ties into that plan.

"We may not be taking an active role immediately but it's going to make it a lot easier when those changes to our code come in if we have knowledge of it and we're not starting from scratch," she said.

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