A new upscale Embassy Suites hotel planned for Haywood Street near its intersection with Montford Avenue in downtown Asheville met unanimous approval from Asheville’s Planning and Zoning Commission during the board’s regular meeting Wednesday evening.
The project, which calls for the construction of a 8-story hotel with 185 rooms, a pool, rooftop bar and an on-site parking deck, now moves on to Asheville City Council for a final review. The project, directly across Haywood Street from the new Hyatt Place hotel which opened this spring, will require the demolition of buildings that served as the former office of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department.
The project by owner PHG Asheville (which is also the owner of the aforementioned Hyatt Place) is the second hotel project to come before City Council since the election of three new council members, who took up the community discussion of the impact of tourism, and a current hotel building boom, on local residents. The three are Julie Mayfield, Keith Young and Brian Haynes, with Young and Haynes expressing support of policies aimed at slowing development, seen by some as favoring hotel owners and tourists at the expense of an over-taxed infrastructure and thus a lower quality of life for residents. City Council has already begun discussion of regulations that would require any new hotel plans citywide to come to council for review.
The Planning and Zoning Commission review moved along with little debate. During the public comment section of the meeting, two people stood to speak, and neither expressly opposed the hotel plans.
Maj. Mark Satterlee of the Salvation Army said he wanted to remind the commission that a Salvation Army serving homeless people and federal inmates transitioning out of prison sits adjacent to the hotel site on Haywood Street. It’s been there since 1979 and hopes to remain for another 40 years, he said.
“We have a fear that someone will come back and say we don’t want those people here,” Satterly told the commission. “I want to note that we were there first. We’re not going in their neighborhood, they’re coming into our neighborhood.
Commission member Laura Berner Hudson responded to Satterlee by saying she didn’t expect the construction to displace the Salvation Army on Haywood Street. “No one’s running you off,” she said.
Derick Boyd, owner of O’Henry’s, the city’s oldest gay bar just down Haywood Street from the proposed hotel, asked the commission if the street would be closed during construction. The recent construction of the Hyatt disrupted traffic to the point that the bar almost went out of business, he said.
City Planner Alan Glines told Boyd that city officials were sensitve to his concerns and would do their best to only temporarily close one lane at a time during construction.
The presentation on behalf of the Embassy Suites hotel team was led by former Asheville city attorney Bob Oast, of the local law firm McGuire, Wood and Bissette, who introduced the rest of the team who spoke to the commission: architect Bill Zehrung of McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture and Mike Dale of Altamont Environmental.
Because of the size of the project and the fact that developers were seeking a conditional use permit, the proceeding continued as a quasi-judicial hearing. Speakers were sworn in, and the team had to make arguments showing that it met seven specific standards for such a development. Those standards included: not harming public safety; showing compatibility with topography; showing that it is in harmony and scale with its surroundings; that it would increase property value; that it was consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan; that services such as fire protection, garbage collection and public transportation can be met at the site; and that the development would not create undo traffic congestion or create traffic hazards.
Oast ticked through the list, noting at every point along the way, the new Embassy Suites was well-suited for Haywood Street.