A city hotel proposal criticized as “Disney-esque” still met approval of the Asheville Planning & Zoning Commission meeting Wednesday night, with the commission voting 6-1 in favor of the project.
The approval of The Parisian hotel design proposed by MRK Property Development means developers can move forward with their 6-story, 61-room hotel on a prime spot in the heart of downtown. The project stands at 74,000 square feet and will require three floors to be added to the existing 1970’s-era building at 68 Patton Ave. The Parisian is headed to Asheville City Council, where developers will seek the granting of air rights for their project.
Last month, members of the Asheville Downtown Commission voted against a motion to approve the project. But the Downtown Commission’s vote had no teeth, because it operates under a “mandatory review, voluntary compliance” mandate, meaning its vote and counsel is non-binding.
In setting up Wednesday night’s Planning & Zoning Commission review, city planner Sasha Vrtunski explained the particulars of the project, noting that it met various city requirements, including that the building not cast a shadow on the popular city park across the street and that the building structure step back as it gets taller. One sticking point Vrtunski noted: developers must still secure air rights from Asheville City Council because of the way the building encroaches on adjacent property.
Vrtunski also noted the Downtown Commission’s “no” vote, terming it “muddy.” P&Z Commission Chairman Jeremy Goldstein asked why that was, and if the Downtown Commission had specific criteria it had to consider. Vrtunski said Downtown Commission members expressed various reasons for their disapproval. (At the meeting one member called the design “cheesy,” and another expressed reservations about the intentions of developers.)
The Downtown Commission reviews a project to see if it meets downtown design guidelines, Vrtunski said, a list that includes 80 rules. But the commission doesn’t work through a checklist of 80 items, she said. “It’s a process that needs improvement,” she Vrtunski added.
Next up was Asheville Peter Alberice, an architect with MHAworks Architects and project architect on The Parisian. He immediately addressed the Downtown Commission’s vote, noting that he worked with developers to address their concerns.
The Downtown Commission, in its motion to approve The Parisian, added the following conditions, Alberice noted: change the roofline; add windows to the east- and west-facing sides of the hotel; widen sidewalks on the Commerce Street side of the building; and not allow vehicles to drop off hotel visitors on the Patton Avenue side of the building because of the lack of a pull-off and concerns about traffic congestion. That motion failed on a 5-4 vote.
Alberice said developers made a good-faith effort to comply and changed their design to meet all but one of the conditions. The roofline, windows and sidewalks were addressed in an updated proposal, but developers could not agree to moving the hotel’s main drop-off point from Patton Avenue, he said. “There’s no way to monitor that,” he said, and there’s no other similar restriction for any other downtown business.
The plan is to have valet parking and park cars on a nearby Buncombe Street lot, Alberice said. Hotel guests will be able to enter through a small lobby on Commerce Street, the back of the building, he added. Goldstein asked if there was any technical requirement associated with the drop-off issue. Vrtunski said there was none.
Goldstein opened the floor to public comment. There was none.
With that, P&Z Commission members were free to speak. Laura Berner Hudson stepped in, noting the project was in a high-profile location, did a good job meeting the city’s technical requirements and had “some nice qualities.” But the look of the building put her off, she said.
“With all due respect to Mr. Alberice, he has achieved the “Frechness” of the project a little too much. I think we should be aware that Asheville is not a theme park,” Hudson said.
“There’s something frustrating having Asheville turn into something Vegas-like,” she added. “Is the next one going to be a pyramid?” she asked, rhetorically.
Alberice didn’t respond. He had earlier noted his attempts, in regard to the architectural design, to reference surrounding and similar structures in downtown Asheville, including the S&W Cafeteria building, an Art Deco gem just a couple of doors down from The Parisian’s location.
But Brett Krueger, a MRK Property Development official and spokesman, did weigh in. He reiterated Alberice’s comments, noting that a number of French artisans came to Asheville in the early 1900s to work. (Take, for example, the Chateauesque Biltmore Estate.)
“We’re trying to be very Asheville. I know what you’re talking about with Las Vegas, but that’s not our intention,” Krueger said.
“Our intention is to be as Asheville as possible. We’re not a chain brand,” he added, noting that “we did the ‘French’ thing at the Windsor,” another MRK boutique hotel project on Broadway Street in downtown Asheville.
Commission member Guillermo Rodriguez spoke up and said the design “seems a little bit overdone; it’s kind of forced. I don’t want this to look Disney-esque, and it’s right on Pritchard Park.” He also registered concerns about traffic congestion on Patton Avenue caused by drivers dropping off hotel guests.
Goldstein, who earlier noted that architectural design is outside the technical review purview of the Planning & Zoning Commission, asked staff about the traffic issue.
City Planning Director Todd Okolichany noted an earlier report by another city advisory board, the Asheville Technical Review Committee, which found that a traffic impact study was not required for The Parisian because of the size of the project. The TRC had no comment as to traffic issues, he said.
Commission member Kristy Carter capped off board member comments.
“I don’t like it, but I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Carter said, pointing out the relatively small size of the hotel. She suggested the applicant use marketing materials to direct visitors to the building’s rear.
Commission member Karl Koon motioned for approval, with fellow member Jim Edmonds seconding. The commission voted 6-1 for approval, with Rodriguez dissenting.