Robotic garage rejected

The Baltimore Sun

A builder's plan for a contentious robotic garage downtown was turned down yesterday by the city's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel, whose members questioned the proposed building's height and aesthetics.

At yesterday's meeting, the developer, David H. Hillman, asked for a 402-space garage, serviced by what was described as "space age" technology.

The garage building, which would be faced with 22 apartment units, has been planned at 18 W. Saratoga St. for five years. Over the past decade, Hillman has converted or renovated numerous downtown office buildings, apartment structures and department stores as living units.

After being turned down by the panel for the fourth time since 2004, Hillman said he would continue to pursue his plan.

"This garage will generate $1 million in tax revenues," he said, adding that he now has his employees drive tenants from his apartment conversion of the former BGE headquarters on nearby Lexington Street in a Lincoln Town Car to a Fayette Street parking garage he owns.

"I need the spaces for people in my buildings," he said.

Opponents criticized the proposal for its site, a lot adjacent to the 1791 Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church rectory. The rectory, which has been converted to offices, is one of the oldest surviving structures in the downtown business district.

"It is the wrong building in the wrong space," said attorney Cleaveland Miller, an Old St. Paul's vestry member. "This project is going the wrong way. It is more massive, denser and more complex."

Members of the city panels also objected to building materials that would be used as facing on the exterior of the garage, including what was described as a "bright white" sun screen. Architects showed white painted aluminum piping that would cover portions of the structure in a lattice-like configuration.

"This building would look fabulous in South Beach, Miami," said Emily Hotaling Eig, an architectural historian who sits on the panel. "The direction you have chosen is the wrong direction. You are working hard not to fit in."

Hillman later said, "I can't stand the color, either." He said his preference would be mirrored glass cladding to reflect neighboring buildings. He also suggested building the garage in brick.

Downtown Partnership President J. Kirby Fowler spoke in favor of the project, saying it would erase a current blight, one of the "ugliest downtown surface parking lots around."

According to architect Basil Rousos, of Peter Fillat Architects, the garage would be constructed using "space-age technology."

"It's a modern building and it needs to look like a modern building," Rousos said.

Members of the panel also took issue with the garage's height. They debated whether the structure would adhere to an 80-foot height limitation on the site or be higher because of projecting elevator machinery housed on the roof.

The garage is to be constructed without ramps. Vehicles would be mechanically carried to and retrieved from storage sites within the structure by a handful of employees. While most of the parking spaces would be reserved for Hillman's tenants, a small number of spaces would be available to downtown parkers.

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