Update: Asheville City Council on Tuesday delayed a discussion and vote on a proposed Embassy Suites hotel.
Original post Jan. 10: The developer of a big new downtown hotel is scheduled to go before Asheville City Council tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 10) seeking approval of a zoning request to allow construction of a 185-room Embassy Suites hotel on Haywood Street. The location is 192 Haywood St., the former home of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office and a spot right across the street from the new Hyatt Place hotel owned by the same development group, PHG Asheville.
City Council is likely to approve the hotel project, despite a push by some residents against a downtown hotel development boom that’s been playing out over the past few years. The project calls for the construction of a 8-story hotel with a pool, rooftop bar and an on-site, 200-space parking deck.
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.)
But without significant new rules in place, City Council is likely to continue giving the go-ahead to hotel projects. 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 will be held as a quasi-judicial hearing, just as they were at P&Z. Anyone wishing to speak must be sworn in and speak under oath. Council is required to make its decision on whether the the Embassy Suites project meets seven legal standards.
The Embassy Suites hotel team that presented at P&Z was formidable. It was led by former Asheville city attorney Bob Oast, of the local law firm McGuire, Wood and Bissette, who introduced the rest of the team who spoke to the commission: architect Bill Zehrung of McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture and Mike Dale of Altamont Environmental.
Speakers were sworn in, and the team made their arguments showing that the Embassy Suites proposal met seven specific standards for such a development. 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.
Oast ticked through the list, noting at every point along the way, the new Embassy Suites was well-suited for Haywood Street. He’ll likely do so again tonight.