By James Harrison and Jason Sandford

A controversial plan to build a five-story, 44,986 square-foot hotel on a lot just north of downtown Asheville will bring an overwhelming amount of traffic to the adjacent Chestnut Hill neighborhood, several residents and business owners told the Asheville Planning & Zoning Commission on Wednesday evening. Despite those concerns, the commission unanimously approved the hotel plan.

Late last year, developers of the Towne Place Suites pulled their plans for the project following concerns from residents about building a 104-room hotel on a 1-acre lot on Elm Street, a one-way street that doubles as an off-ramp for Interstate 240 traffic heading west through the city. The street intersects with busy Merrimon Avenue, withGreenlife GroceryTrader Joe’s and Harris Teeter nearby. The lot, once home to El Paradiso restaurant and Steak & Ale restaurant before that, is also adjacent to a north Asheville neighborhood populated with homes and several other small businesses.

The revised plan calls for a hotel with 83 rooms and 78 parking spaces on the Elm Street lot. City planners told commissioners that the project, which also offers direct pedestrian access to the hotel, met all technical standards and they therefore recommended approval. 

Six people stood to speak against the project, and all of them cited increased traffic congestion on Liberty and Orange streets. Commission Chairman Jeremy Goldstein stressed that the board could only consider technical standards of the development itself, which did not include traffic impact. A seventh speaker, Timothy Sadler, suggested that the commission consider amending its rules so that traffic impacts could play a factor in the commission’s decision-making process. (Only Asheville City Council could approve such a change.)

“I have some real serious concerns about the safety of the neighborhood, and about the traffic that goes through that neighborhood,” property owner Bill McDowell told the group. He cited comments by a city traffic engineer who had also expressed concerns about traffic. 

Elizabeth Garzarelli, who owns property directly behind the proposed hotel site, said she, too, was concerned, and suggested the city push the developer to provide access to the hotel off of Merrimon. 

That access would have to come through a lot that is the site of a former Exxon gas station and 51 Grille restaurant. The gas station and late-night eatery closed last year after the lot was purchased by a company that develops hotels, an entity separate from the group that owns the Town Place Suites lot. 

Goldstein asked city planners how residents could get their concerns about traffic addressed. Alan Glines answered, saying it could be possible for the city to perform a traffic study of the area, similar to one recently conducted for Haywood Road in West Asheville.

Commission member Laura Berner Hudson pressed, asking a representative of the development if the hotel could communicate to its clientele that Central and Chestnut avenues were the best ways to get to the hotel, rather than using Orange and Liberty Streets. 

Asheville attorney Craig Justus, representing the developer, said his client would do that. Justus added that the developer also planned to put up several way finding signs directing traffic to the hotel.

With that, the commission unanimously approved Towne Place Suites. 

Following the hotel item, commissioners unanimously approved a rezoning request to allow redevelopment of Lee Walker Heights. The community, which currently hosts 96 residential units, is Asheville’s oldest public housing complex.

New plans put forward by the Asheville Housing Authority, the City of Asheville and Duke Energy will add 199 mixed-income residential units and 10,975 square feet of commercial space to the 11.59 acre site. All residents living in the community when construction begins will have the right to return when the development is completed, commissioners were told. 

The group also approved an item pertaining to a newly-announced distillery planned for the city’s South Slope. The request, made by Southslope Apothecary Real Estate LLC, regarded setbacks for the a new metal and brick two-story building, deck and courtyard to be constructed at 151 Coxe Avenue. The property, which currently hosts the former Elff Auto Repair shop, sits between Swannanoa Cleaners and Wicked Weed Brewing’s Funkatorium.  

An additional item on the commission’s agenda featured a request to rezone a parcel of land on Wayside Drive on the east side of Beaucatcher Mountain in order to accommodate a short-term rental. The request, put forward by property owner George Tsiros, was recommended for denial by planners, and met with protests from neighbors who complained of parking problems, trash and excessive noise. The commission unanimously denied the request. This project will move on to Asheville City Council for consideration.

(Click here for Towne Place Suites plans.)

James Harrison is an Asheville native and commercial real estate broker for Whitney Commercial Real Estate. In addition to real estate, he’s covered politics for Nooga.com in Chattanooga, Tenn., and has contributed political columns and music reviews for Ashvegas. Follow James on Twitter at @jharrisonAVL.

Correction on April 7: The hotel proposal will not go on to Asheville City Council for further review, as previously stated. The Planning & Zoning Commission has the final say on the issue.

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8 Comments

  1. If you don’t want a hotel there, then you should have bought the property. Quit complaining. Asheville is full of a bunch of whiners who want diversity unless it’s in their neighborhood. Hypeville USA!!

  2. City Council has no say!

  3. So, does the city council need to approve it, too? Maybe it will stall out there?

  4. “That access would have to come through a lot that is the site of a former Exxon gas station and 51 Grille restaurant. The gas station and late-night eatery closed last year after the lot was purchased by a company that develops hotels, an entity separate from the group that owns the Town Place Suites lot.” So there’s a different group who owns that lot? And since they “develop hotels” does this mean they’re going to try and put up another hotel there to join the Town Place Suites? Or is this a shell company that will allow TPS to expand as needed? Regardless, lower Merrimon and the exit off I-240 are going to be an even bigger mess….

  5. Joe sasfy says:

    If you wanted a study of civic helplessness and local government powerlessness, the hearing on this poorly located hotel was it. The bottom line was that the hotel’s impacts on traffic, parking and quality of life in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood could not legally be considered in the commission’s decision. It also appears that the same people bought the 51 Grill lot under a different name perhaps to make sure the city did not demand that the hotel entrance go through this property ( which would have made hotel access off of Merrimon easy and kept cars out of the neighborhood). The city was probably sandbagged here. In all, a depressing study of citizen’s lack of power here in Asheville.

    • luther blissett says:

      “The city was probably sandbagged here.”

      Well, color me surprised. Isn’t every property deal in Asheville now done under the auspices of some opaquely-named LLC? Not much City Council can do about deliberate subterfuge, other than try to avoid looking stupid yet again.

  6. If you build it, they will come.

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