There’s new action at a proposed Embassy Suites hotel location in downtown Asheville. Demolition permits have been pulled to tear down the former Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office building on the site.
Almost exactly one year ago, Asheville City Council voted to deny the request for the construction of an 8-story, 178,000-square-foot, 185-room Embassy Suites on 2 acres at 192 Haywood St. The hotel proposal also featured a rooftop bar, pool and parking deck with 200 spaces. The developer, PHG Asheville, built the Hyatt Place right across Haywood Street from the proposed Embassy Suites site a few years ago.
Asheville City Council, in a quasi-judicial hearing, considered whether the Embassy Suites project met seven legal standards. 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.
The developers and its representatives, including Bob Oast, of the local law firm McGuire, Wood and Bissette, argued that their project met those standards. Asheville City Council decided that the project did not meet six of the seven standards. It voted unanimously to deny the conditional use permit the hotel developers were seeking.
The Embassy Suites proposal came up for a vote at a time of heightened public concern about the impacts of increased tourism in Asheville. Three council members who took up the community discussion of the impact of tourism, and a current hotel building boom, were elected in 2014: Julie Mayfield, Keith Young and Brian Haynes. Both Young and Haynes expressed support of policies aimed at slowing development. One month after the Embassy Suites vote, City Council voted to approve new restrictions on large hotel construction and required any hotel project proposing 20 rooms or more to come before City Council for review.
In appealing Asheville City Council’s decision to Superior Court, the developer argued that City Council members had already made up their mind prior to the hearing. The developer also argued that the city improperly asked them for concessions, such as seeking for a donation to the city’s affordable housing fund and asking that the hotel pay employees a living wage.
Superior Court Judge William Coward ruled in PHG’s favor in October.
Asheville City Council met in closed session in December to discuss the lawsuit.