Asheville City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday night to deny a conditional use permit to the developers of a proposed 185-room Embassy Suites hotel at 192 Haywood Street, according to media reports. The vote was a shocker: it’s the first time during the ongoing hotel building boom that council has voted to deny a hotel project.
The next stop for the Embassy Suites project could be a courtroom, which is where developers would take their appeal. Asheville Citizen-Times’ reporter Joel Burgess writes that PHG Asheville and its president, Shaunuk Patel, plan to appeal City Council’s decision in Superior Court.
The project called for the construction of a 8-story hotel with a pool, rooftop bar and an on-site, 200-space parking deck. The location is the former Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, a site that’s right across the street from the new Hyatt Place hotel owned by the same development group.
The Embassy Suites proposal came 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, 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 been discussing regulations that would require any new hotel plans citywide to come to council for review.)
In January 2015, City Council voted to approve the remodeling of Asheville’s tallest building, the former BB&T building (18 stories tall), into a boutique hotel, condos, restaurant and retail space. Haynes and Young voted no on the project, but Mayor Esther Manheimer, Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler and council members Cecil Bothwell, Julie Mayfield and Gordon Smith voted yes.
Two city advisory boards have split on the Embassy Suites proposal. The Asheville Downtown Commission voted to recommend that City Council deny the project, according to the Mountain Xpress. The city’s Planning & Zoning Commission, on the other hand, gave the Embassy Suites project its unanimous approval.
Because of the size of the project and the fact that developers were seeking a conditional use permit, the proceeding at City Council was held as a quasi-judicial hearing, just as it was at P&Z. Anyone wishing to speak had to be sworn. Council was required to make its decision on whether the the Embassy Suites project meets 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 Citizen-Times reported that Council found that the project did not meet six of the seven standards. David Forbes at the Asheville Blade reported that the developer had its own court reporter at the City Council meeting to record proceedings.
The city council finding that 6 of the 7 standards weren’t met wasn’t very bright. I thought the mayor was a lawyer? The majority of the standards are obviously met and by piling on one undermines the decision. The council was acting as essential a court in this case, not as an advocate. Likely overturned.
The hearing was fun to watch, or at least “fun” compared to most council hearings. The traffic study was done on a Thursday (for a hotel!) because apparently traffic studies aren’t done on weekends, even for hotels. Also, the owner implicitly fessed up that his “associates” are paid too little to afford a car and park in the hotel lot, and says a lot about the reality of the industry.
I sincerely hope mr. Patel wins