A proposal for a 7-story, 103-room hotel on Biltmore Avenue in Asheville was withdrawn Tuesday night just before Asheville City Council was prepared to vote on the project, and after three council members expressed their opposition.
City Council members in recent weeks have been stating their growing concern about the ongoing wave of hotel projects coming before them for final approval. Earlier this month, Mayor Esther Manheimer said she and her colleagues were struggling with the onslaught of proposals.
She said she had considered a moratorium on hotel construction, and suggested that City Council would be holding a work session to discuss how to balance hotel projects with their infrastructure demands and their impacts on the city’s budget. (City Council went on to vote 4-2 to grant approval for a 106-room Mainstay Suites on Brevard Road.) Tuesday night, Manheimer said she didn’t feel comfortable continuing to make decisions on individual hotel projects while not having a full grasp on that balance.
“I think we’re at a critical point,” Manheimer said.
The upscale extended-stay hotel, a Residence Inn hotel by Marriott, was proposed for a vacant lot in a part of town in need of a hotel, said attorney Wyatt Stevens, representing developer Pratik Bhakta. Stevens went on to explain that his client was a local resident with community support and a detailed plan to aid the city:
-The developer was prepared to give the Asheville Housing Authority a $125,000 donation for the construction of a playground at the Lee Walker Heights public housing complex, Stevens said. The Housing Authority is planning a major renovation of the housing complex, which is right across the street from the proposed hotel site at the corner of Biltmore Avenue and White Fawn Drive.
-The developer was prepared to donate $100,000 a year for five years to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
-The developer was prepared to provide job training to residents of Lee Walker Heights.
-The developer was prepared to extend preferential hotel pricing to people with patients at Mission Hospital, and to people using the facility for troubled youth nearby.
-Community leaders Scott Dedman, executive director of Mountain Housing Opportunities, and Scott Rogers, executive director of the Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, wrote letters in support of the project, Stevens said.
But council members’ opinions were split.
Council members Julie Mayfield and Vijay Kapoor both expressed support for the hotel.
“I think it fits a specific need for a part of town,” Kapoor said. “I think what’s being offered is a clear net positive.”
Mayfield said “I’m with Vijay on this,” and said the developer had been responsive to Oakurst neighborhood concerns.
Councilman Brian Haynes said that “personally, a moratorium has begun,” especially regarding hotels in the city’s central business district or close to downtown. “We are above and beyond our need for hotels in this city,” Haynes said. “We need housing,” referring to the city’s dire need for more affordable housing options, he added.
“I want folks to think long and hard before they invest a lot of money in the next hotel project,” Haynes said. “It may very well get voted down.”
Councilman Keith Young noted that many city residents were expressing frustration with the growing number of city hotel projects when he was first elected in 2015. “I think it is time for work session that the mayor spoke about,” he said, adding that he planned to vote against the project.
During the public comment portion of the discussion about the hotel proposal, seven people spoke in favor of the project, while one person expressed opposition.
Tom Scheve, general manager of the Noble Kava cafe nearby, said the project would be “good for us, good for the community.”
City resident Matilda Bliss said she opposed the project, noting ongoing concerns regarding the lack of affordable housing. “Affordable housing goals are not being met.”
Neither Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler nor Councilwoman Sheneika Smith spoke during the hotel discussion.