With Asheville City Council’s last meeting cancelled due to snow, its Jan. 25 session promises to be a marathon night. Front and center is the 51 Biltmore project, a proposed parking deck/hotel/retail development that’s become an extremely contentious issue.
To the project’s supporters (including, the last time parts of it it came up for a vote, most of Council) the partnership between the city, Public Interest Projects and the McKibbon hotel group will bring the city an important source of revenue and help spur denser development in the Biltmore Avenue area of downtown. To its detractors (including Council member Cecil Bothwell), the deal is an overpriced misuse of public funds at a time when the city needs to focus its efforts on alternative sources of transportation or sidewalks. The $14.8 million for the project won’t come out of city coffers, but through private loans, to be paid back with parking deck revenues.
Earlier this month, the advocacy group People Advocating Real Conservancy, who have vocally opposed the project, squared off with PIP President Pat Whalen in dueling e-mail missives, with PARC also criticizing PIP itself. Opponents of the project are trying to rally their forces, and late last week, Council member Gordon Smith reported receiving over 200 e-mails on the topic.
That brouhaha isn’t the only matter on Council’s plate. Council will also consider selling the W.C. Reid Center to the Housing Authority, sustainability recommendations for its development incentives, approving signage for Mission Hospitals and deciding on the city’s General Assembly legislative goals. Council will also receive updates on matters such as metered handicapped parking and sidewalks.
The Asheville City Council meeting begins at 5 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall.
— David Forbes, senior news reporter