The big downtown Asheville mixed-use development that includes a hotel and condos in a new 9-story building passed Asheville Planning & Zoning Commission review Wednesday night, with the advisory board voting unanimously in favor of project plans.
Commissioners praised the project, known as Create 72 Broadway, as some of the best hotel proposals they’ve seen lately.
“I like this project. I think it’s innovative,” Commissioner Tony Hauser said. “I hope things continue to go this way where there’s that mix of uses.”
The hotel proposal arrives as Asheville City Council prepares to consider a moratorium later this month on new hotel construction, a response to a hotel building boom that started about five years ago. Right now, all hotel proposals go to City Council for final approval. That’s where Create 72 Broadway is headed next.
Plans initially called for the construction of a 150-room hotel and 30 residential units in a 9-story building that will front both Broadway Street and North Market Street. Those plans were changed following last months review by the Asheville Downtown Commission and ongoing discussion with city staff.
The new mix presented Wednesday called for 138 hotel rooms and 37 condos. Here’s the breakdown of the condos: 28 to be offered at market rate, with nine set aside as “affordable units,” including six units rented at 60 percent of annual median income or below, and at least one unit for sale. Plans also now call for a 129-space parking deck, with one space dedicated to each residential unit and the rest reserved for hotel guests. An 1,100-square-foot art gallery is proposed, and developers removed some planned commercial space.
Leading off the development team’s presentation, attorney Jacqueline D. Grant of the Asheville law firm of Roberts & Stevens, said the project’s unique mix of hotel rooms, condos, affordable residential units and a design spotlighting works from local artists made it a perfect fit for downtown. Chris Day of Civil Design Concepts in Asheville told the commission that “we heard the commentary about adding more affordable (housing) and improving the ratio of residential to hotel units. And architect Peter Alberice, head of the MHAworks architectural firm in Asheville, stressed that Create 72 Broadway was a true mixed-use project.
“The intention all along was to develop a mixed use that happens to have a hotel component, but is not the only piece of the project,” he said. The team worked with Greensboro developer Birju Patel “to develop a project that is more than a hotel, that is unique to downtown Asheville” and responds to its surrounds, Alberice added.
In opening the public comment period, Blue Ridge Public Radio General Manager and CEO David Feingold rose to plead for attention to the loss of parking his organization will face if the project moves forward. The radio station has been located on Broadway Street for more than 30 years and rents parking across the street from the station, where the the new building would go up. That parking serves the nonprofit station’s employees, station volunteers and radio program interviewees, he said. Forcing the station to find new, likely more expensive parking, “could impact the viability for maintaining our downtown office in the long term,” Feingold said.
Asheville City Market manager Mike McCreary was up next, and said the mixed-use development represented a significant threat to the market.
The Saturday morning downtown farmer’s market, which features more than 50 vendors selling fresh produce, crafts and much more, would lose 20 vendor spots along North Market Street under the design plan presented Wednesday, he said.
“This reduction in size would threaten the viability of market,” he said. Ongoing construction in the area would also pose a problem, he said.
Emily Copus, a Madison County flower farmer, and Nicole Delcogliano of Green Toe Ground Farm in Yancey County, also spoke about the importance of the City Market to them and their businesses. Copus asked the developers to commit, in writing, to not disrupting the market during construction and to not forcing the market reduce its footprint. Delcogliano stressed that the market, which has been located on North Market Street for the past three years after moving from South Charlotte Street, represents a quarter of her income. It’s a creative hub for entrepreneurs that offers fresh food to residents, the market’s primary clientele, she added.
Resident Steve Keeble said that the hotel and condo project was simply too big for its proposed location. He added that, “This is a hotel – all the other stuff is fluff,” noting that six affordable housing units barely dents the city’s need for such.
After a number of detailed questions from Planning & Zoning Commission members, Chairwoman Laura Hudson called for a 5-minute break that stretched into 20-minute territory as various commissioners, city staff and members of the development team huddled.
Gaveling the meeting back to order, Hudson began ticking through a list of conditions required as part of project approval. Bouncing between city planners Sasha Vrtunkski and Shannon Tuch, as well as architect Alberice, here are the key conditions they agreed upon: the group agreed on the new count of hotel rooms, condos and parking spaces; that one entrance/exit to the project would be provided off North Market Street, and that hotel guest drop-off would be located internally, not street-side; that the project includes 12-foot sidewalks along North Market and Broadway, and that a pedestrian walkway of at least 6-feet wide be provided between Market and Broadway, and that it be open at all times to the public; that the developer will relocate a bus stop after working with city staff; that the developer will use best practices to manage EFIS, a building material that can cause a shower of small plastic particles if not handled correctly; that annual bus passes be provided to hotel employees (the group noted that it was illegal for the commission to include a condition requiring that the hotel pay a living wage, but that was a promise that attorney Grant made in her presentation); that construction crews maintain an accessible pedestrian route on Broadway and Market during construction; and that the developer not disrupt the Asheville City Market during construction (the commission also highly recommended that the development group sit down with market representatives to find some way to not reduce the footprint of the market.)
With that, Hudson signaled her approval by noting that she liked the mix of uses at Create 72 Broadway. “It’s not perfect, but it certainly is a step in the right direction as far as what we’ve seen” by way of other hotel proposals, she said.
Commissioner Karl Koon motioned for project approval, with a second from Commissioner Guillermo Rodriguez. After an “all in favor” prompt, Commissioners Hudson, Koon, Rodriguez, Joe Archibald, Jim Edmonds and Sandra Kilgore responded in unanimity.