Two more Asheville hotel projects are headed to Asheville City Council for review after the Asheville Planning & Zoning Commission gave its approval of them Wednesday night.
City Council has the final say over the proposals. Last month, council members made it clear that any new hotel projects would face serious scrutiny in light of an ongoing hotel boom that’s added hundreds of new rooms for rent. Councilwoman Julie Mayfield, delivering her update on council actions to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority last week, said “I don’t see a majority on council to approve any more hotels,” especially ones proposed for the central business district.
But there are still several hotel projects in the pipeline.
The Planning & Zoning Commission, which reviews the technical merits of projects, first looked at a project dubbed the “RB hotel.” It’s a six-story, 170-room independent hotel by Rockbridge, an Ohio-based company that has connections with Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood brands. The location is 62 Fairview Road, the site of a marble/granite business adjacent to Davis Home Furniture and just up Fairview Road from Sweeten Creek Road. The project also includes a separate, 120-seat, two-story restaurant that would be built closest to the property’s Fairview Road frontage.
Chris Day of Civil Design Concepts, representing the developer, addressed several issues. Day noted that the site sits in a floodway, and will have to be raised about four feet with fill dirt. The site is also a brownfield, so the fill dirt will be placed on a brownfield cap, he said. A traffic study found no significant impacts on key surrounding intersections, Day added.
Two people spoke during the public comment portion of the discussion. A woman who identified herself as an Oakley neighborhood resident said she was “very much in favor of this project,” but noted that Fairview Road was narrow, curvy and dangerous. And Karl Koon, a member of the Planning & Zoning Commission who recused himself from voting on the project because he owns property adjacent to the site, said he also favored the project. Koon owns Asheville Oil Company and said he planned to move his business from its 4 Fairview Road location.
Laura Hudson, P&Z’s chairwoman, said that in thinking about hotel projects, she’s been mulling “objective criteria” officials might use in determining whether or not to approve them. Hudson said she landed on the following considerations:
-does the hotel or lodging use displace business or residential uses?
-does it provide parking?
-does it have “ground floor activation” like retail spaces or a restaurant?
“That’s the lens through which I’m looking at these projects,” Hudson said. The RB hotel project is a good one, she said. The hotel should add a shuttle service to the nearby Biltmore Estate, Hudson added.
Fellow commission members agreed and voted unanimously in its favor.
The second hotel project, referred to as the Family Lodge, calls for spreading 56 rooms across three historic existing buildings and one new building on Biltmore Avenue. The project, inside the city’s central business district boundaries, stretches from just north of the Wild Wing Cafe restaurant up Biltmore Avenue to just below the now-closed Bartaco restaurant.
Asheville attorney Gene Ellison, speaking on behalf of the developer, said the unique project includes the restoration and renovation of three buildings that were built as homes in the early 1900s. One building would have 10 lodging rooms, another would have four rooms and the third would house six rooms. A new, separate building would have a restaurant and 36 rooms designed to accommodate families with suites, Ellison said.
“I think it’s a great project, a great addition to downtown,” Ellison said.
Hudson, the commission’s chairwoman, said she didn’t approve of converting the existing buildings to a lodging use. “I think we’re losing our mix” of uses in the central business district, she said. While praising the project’s design, Hudson said she would have “a hard time turning almost an entire block of downtown into lodging.”
Commission member Joe Archibald said he liked the re-purposing of the old houses for a lodging use, but said he wished the new building to be constructed could be apartments for workers rather than hotel rooms.
No one from the public rose to speak on the project.
Commission member Guillermo Rodriguez motioned to approved the Family Lodge, and the commission voted 5-2 in favor, with Hudson and Archibald voting against.