Room service

In limbo since 2008 due to a faltering economy, the 51 Biltmore project took a couple of steps forward at the Asheville City Council's Dec. 14 meeting. If the hotel/parking deck/retail development is approved, the target site — a large parking lot on Biltmore Avenue — could change dramatically.

On a pair of 4-2 votes with Council members Cecil Bothwell and Gordon Smith opposed, Council approved leasing space on South Lexington Avenue to Public Interest Projects for use during construction and set a Jan. 11 public hearing to consider issuing $15.5 million in revenue bonds for the city’s share of the project, a 422-space parking deck.

Under the terms of the complex deal, Asheville would build the deck on land purchased from Public Interest Projects; the McKibbon Hotel Group would build and manage an Aloft Hotel and retail space atop the deck.

Proponents, including Vice Mayor Brownie Newman, say it’s a golden opportunity for the city to secure the downtown property and add much-needed parking while spurring economic development in the area.

“This is a big commitment of resources, sure,” conceded Newman. “But when I think about public parking in downtown, if we're going to build one more project in the foreseeable future, this is the one to do: It's the area of downtown that needs it the most.”

According to staff reports, the city’s overall parking revenues are projected to cover the cost of the bond debt. In the long run, owning the facility would be cheaper than leasing it, even though the city would be paying $130 per square foot rather than the current appraised value (about $95 per square foot).

Some on Council were skeptical, however. “For $14 million, we could build a four-mile trolley system,” asserted Bothwell, a vocal critic of the project. Staff's assessments, he noted, had failed to consider other forms of transportation that could provide access to the area without increasing traffic problems.

“It seems to me like we're acting on a plan developed in a different economic situation,” said Bothwell. “The parking study didn't consider at all changing automobile use. … The best estimates say we're going to reach peak oil within the next decade. Transit is changing; putting all of our eggs in one basket is a serious problem.”

Smith voiced similar concerns, saying the city needs a “multitiered approach” and that “We can't just do parking and solve the problem.” He queried consultant Fred Burchette, who conducted the 51 Biltmore parking studies, concerning his analysis.

“Our study was based on existing land use” and the demand it creates, as well as the fact that new transit and shuttle systems would increase the city’s annual operating costs, Burchette replied. “At peak times, it's hard to find parking on Biltmore. You don't have parking, people won't come downtown.”

And for my annexed trick…

At a pre-meeting work session, Council members revisited their annexation policy, peering at a big map of areas the city might absorb. Because state legislation aimed exclusively at Asheville prohibits the city from making annexation a precondition for access to the water system, and Council has traditionally been cautious about taking in new areas, Asheville barely makes the top 20 North Carolina cities in terms of total area annexed, city staff explained.

And with newly minted Republican majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, several Council members noted that Republican state Sen. Tom Apodaca, who will head the powerful Rules and Operations Committee, has declared his intent to do away with involuntary annexation.

“It's easier to negotiate with someone when you're not pissing them off,” Council member Esther Manheimer observed. “We have to prepare for a future without forced annexation.”

Council member Jan Davis expressed some optimism, opining that Apodaca “wouldn't want to cut the legs out from the biggest city in his district.”

City Manager Gary Jackson advised Council that, off the record, the N.C. League of Municipalities is advising towns and cities to take a cautious approach to annexation until the legislative dust settles.

But Bothwell pointed out that if forced annexation is on the way out, this could be the city's last chance to take corrective action. The current situation, he added, allows surrounding urbanized areas to use city services without helping pay for them.

“We need to find ways to tax people from outside the city for being here,” said Bothwell, citing such examples as cheaper parking rates for city residents.

— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at dforbes@mountainx.com.

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10 thoughts on “Room service

  1. stratman

    Bothwells statement ” We need to find ways to tax people from outside the city for being here” is extremely short sighted, and I, for one, will make sure I dont do anymore shopping in Asheville if they find some “creative” ways to rip people off for coming into town. Merchants, take heed, this kind of mindset from your leaders is poison.

  2. BigAl

    Stratman, Bothwell has a long-running perception of tourists as leeches who consume resources while paying no taxes, conveniently forgetting about the layers of taxes and fees levied on resteraunts and hotels in addition to their usual property taxes and utility fees.

    I doubt he could get elected with a constituancy limited to bead-wearing vegan tokers, anti-capitalists and starry-eyed idealists (did I miss any stereotypes? if so, my sincerest apologies), he would also need votes from a significant number of local merchants and investors.

    In the interest of self-improvement, I would love to hear from some local merchants and entrepreneurs as to why they voted for Bothwell and his anti-tourist worldview.

  3. NotBasheville

    Sounds good stratman, maybe go to the big chains and send your money right to China, that is something you could be proud of. <— Sarcasm! How can just the residents of a city pay for all of the people that use its infrastructure? You walk on the sidewalks, you drink the water, you use the toilet and I should foot the bill for you? How bout you pay your share?

  4. ashevillain7

    “…if we are going to build one more project…”

    When does it stop!? One more…just one more…just one more…just one more…just one more…just one more. This sounds like something an addict says.

    We (as members of Western society) need to get off of our addiction to cheap and easy excess.

    I’m sorry I voted for you Brownie.

  5. Curious

    Don’t non-city residents pay sales tax when they shop in Asheville, and isn’t some of that revenue allocated to the city?

  6. As points of information:
    Yes, visitors pay sales tax in Asheville, but the portion returned from the state to local governments is apportioned based on a population equation, so Asheville has received a declining portion of sales tax as Buncombe’s population has boomed.
    The City of Asheville has grown more slowly than any other city in NC, principally because we are prevented from charging a higher water rate to customers outside city limits (unlike every other city in NC). Also, MSD is separate and provides sewerage without regard to city limits. Therefore there is virtually no incentive for voluntary annexation (except for commercial properties which want to sell liquor by the drink- only permitted in cities in NC).
    Big Al, no matter what your fantasies, I have never regarded tourists as leeches. But you are also wrong about “layers of taxes and fees.” You are entirely wrong. In other NC cities, there are room taxes which go to the city. Not in Asheville. In other cities there are food and beverage taxes that go to the city. Not in Asheville. So, please, if you want to bash me at least try to base your comments in reality. You contribute nothing to the conversation by making totally ungrounded assertions.
    You are so lame.

  7. Meiling Dai

    Readers may be interested to learn that prior to June 1959, N.C. citizens were required to vote on annexation. The right to vote on annexation was exercised repeatedly thruout the state. In June 1959, the Democratic N.C. Legislature passed a N.C. Annexation law that deprived citizens of their previously enjoyed “right to vote on annexation. Their reasoning was that allowing people to vote on annexation “stifled annexation.”
    Lawmakers basically disenfranchised the people of North Carolina in regard to voting on annexation. This is all documented in May and June 1959 articles in the Raleigh News&Observer;.

  8. By the way, please forgive my “You are so lame” … what I meant to say is “Your argument is so lame.” The somewhat personal attack was a slip of the pixels.

  9. BigAl

    Mr. Bothwell, your points on the taxes and fees not going to Asheville as they do in other cities is well made. I came from an area where room, food and beverage taxes are routinely raised in order to fund local projects. I am very surprised to find that this is not the case in Asheville.

    Having said that, it still makes no sense to me to joke, as you did in a recent meeting, of “collaring” tourists, implying a mugging or other involuntary removal of their funds (which is just as bad an insult as calling me lame, for which I accept your apology, BTW) especially in a small city where there is no industry to speak of outside of tourism.

    If the problem is the manor in which the state allocates funds, then go after the STATE, not the PEOPLE. Tourists are not the only folk who shop and recreate downtown, and unless you plan to ask for ID before charging for goods and services, I do not see any way to target only out-of-towners.

    I still haven’t heard from any merchants or entrepreneurs who voted for you. I would love to hear one of them explain how your desire to tax consumers more is in their best interests.

  10. For whatever it’s worth, Big Al, here are a few of the local business owners who supported me. The only criticism I’ve received from any of them to date is over the sustainability bonus vote. This list isn’t exhaustive, but is pretty representative. (And my concern is to make the tax burden more fair for City taxpayers. We all pay taxes as dues to live in a civilized society, the question is who should pay for what.)

    Suzie Millions, Peter Brezny, Paul VanHeden, Leslie Armstrong, Walter Dinteman, Bert Gaines, Frances Greenberg, Nancy Herman, Anne Higgins, Mitch Russell, Susana and Timmy Abell, Doug Abernethy, Julie Adkins, Ron Ainspan, Teresa Alexander, Scot Allred, Margot Ammidown, Diane Amos, Richard & Betty Armstrong, Lenore Arnow, Chloe Atkins, Marilyn Avery, Louise Baker, Byron Ballard, Travis Barker, Kathleen Barnes, Vonciel Baudouin, Kasha Baxter, Jamie Beasley, Barry Benjamin, Alan Berger, Lesley Potter Groetsch, Rosie Bily, Elaine Lite, Teelko & Karne Boekschoten, Elinor Bowman, Ken Brame, Catherine & Jerry Brown, Caryl Brt, Bob Brunk, Blake Butler, Trish Byers, Garry Byrne, Scot Cameron, Dennis Campbell, Charles Carter, Melanie Castillo, Chris Chromey, Cathy Cleary, Linda Delery, Barbara DeLoache, Roger Derrough, Damon Dickinson, Jim & Ellen Frerotte, John Frye, Alexis Gault, Miller Graves, Sherry Ingram, Peter Johnson, Amy & Ken LaDeroute, Elisa Lamar, Nancy Livingston, Steve Livingston, Susanne Loar, Dennis Lucchese, Gary Lux, David Lynch, Robert & Angela Maddix, Claire Mager, Laurie Masterton, Greg Mayer, Brenda Murphree, Crawford Murphy, Denise Ostler, Nancy Patterson, Chris Pelly, Lyle Peterson, Kristin Query, Belinda Rabb, Nimm & Vince Ross, Tim Schaller, Paul Schattel, Alyssa & Patrick & Joe Scully, Roberta Jordan, Thomas Smith, Laura Somerville, Trish & Morgan Somerville, Laura Sorensen, Lewis & Mary Sorrells, Karen Spradley, Sam & Oksana Stark, Fred Strickhouser, Kim & Daniel Strobel, Alexandra TerHorst, Maria Warne, Bill Voegele, Adam Wisler.

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