Building opposition

The irregular patch of pavement at the corner of Haywood Street and Page Avenue in downtown Asheville is heating up again, and it’s not just the warmer weather. The city-owned parcel, adjacent to the Civic Center and the Basilica of St. Lawrence, was once earmarked for a parking deck that proved highly controversial and was eventually canceled. Now, however, the site is en route to becoming home to a seven-story hotel, and that prospect has both the Basilica and anti-high-rise activists up in arms.

Building a case: The century-old Basilica of St. Lawrence as seen from a city-owned parcel that may become the site of a seven-story hotel. Basilica representatives are marshaling community opposition to the project. Photo by Jonathan Welch

Asheville is working out a contract to sell the 0.77-acre property to the McKibbon Hotel Group—the next step in a two-year process of finding suitable developers for various city-owned parcels downtown. The Haywood Street property is one of three plots that have been the focus of that effort. The city’s initial request for qualifications—in which interested firms submit a sort of extended resumé displaying past work—resulted in nine companies making the cut for that site. But only McKibbon followed up with a proposal.

The developer is proposing a seven-story, 130-room hotel featuring 9,200 square feet of retail space and 130 parking spaces, some of which would be public. The original proposal called for a 350-space deck, fulfilling a long-held city goal to increase public parking in that part of town. The parking component was scaled back, however, after the city launched talks with AT&T to purchase its parking lot nearby, Economic Development Director Sam Powers reports.

But the prospect of a seven-story building smack across the street has spurred Basilica officials into action. Basilica property manager Bud Hansbury has met with city staff and Council members, asking that the city either develop a park on the site or increase the required setback for any development there. He’s also released a “Save the Basilica” video that’s now making the rounds on the Internet. The proposed structure, he told Xpress, would tower over the 1909-vintage Basilica and completely cut it off from downtown.

Meanwhile, People Advocating Real Conservancy, a local grass-roots group, has gotten in the game, circulating e-mails and likening the plan to the controversial Parkside condominium project that’s the focus of a protracted legal battle.

This isn’t the first time the area around the Basilica has sparked outcry by activist groups. In 2005, the city scrapped a six-story parking deck planned for the area after the Basilica’s owner, the Diocese of Charlotte, backed out of an agreement to sell the city property needed for the project. The deck, which would have backed up up to the neighboring Battery Park Apartments, also prompted protest demonstrations by sign-wielding tenants there. Canceling the project proved costly for the city, which had already invested $4 million to acquire adjacent parcels and design the deck. McKibbon’s initial bid for the property was $2.3 million.

Powers, meanwhile, points out that the whole process of seeking proposals has been “extensive and transparent,” with regular Council updates since 2007. Both the hotel project and the land sale will still require Council approval before construction can begin.



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7 thoughts on “Building opposition

  1. AvlResident

    Can you post some drawings (elevations and birds-eye views) of the MHG project design, so readers can see how this project could impact the Basilica?

  2. LOKEL

    What we all need to remember, this land is located in DOWNTOWN, where one would expect to find tall buildings.

    The “sale” of this land is open to all buyers (something the Diocese refuses to acknowledge), and this includes THEM – if the Diocese, wants to prevent the building of ANYTHING there it should BUY THE LAND!

    Did the Diocese complain when the Battery Park Hotel was built, what about the Grove Arcade, the Civic Center, Interstate I-240, what about the Hotel Indigo? The answer to all these questions is NO!

    Did the construction of any of those result in damage, in any way, the the structure or the congregation- NO.

  3. us-ukrob

    That site has so much potential and should not be thrown away to some mundane, towering hotel block. To make both sides of the debate happy, a plaza piazzo should be constructed there with a smaller, mixed-use development including shops, bistros and cafes that is further back from the historic basilica.

    I came across this design and I think it would suit the site perfectly!

    The square complements the basilica and makes for a nice, open space more akin to European cities. There is clearly a lack of creativity among city planners if they ignore this proposal by MMM Development. This proposal could exploit the beauty of Asheville’s existing architecture whilst making the city more liveable and walkable.

  4. destiny pugh

    You just happened to “come across” this design? Gee, I aint too smart but I’d bet a nickel that you might just happen to be MMM Development. Duh.

  5. hauntedheadnc

    Well, the MMM plan is still a better idea than another dreary modernist block of a building.

  6. AvlResident

    So much for the editors engaging with the readers. I asked, “Can you post some drawings (elevations and birds-eye views) of the MHG project design, so readers can see how this project could impact the Basilica?” Can’t the enterprising reporter who developed this story find that information?

  7. AvlResident

    I have no opinions one way or other about what should be built (or not built) on the corner of land in question. But it appears obvious from Google Maps, satellite view and street view, that even if that corner were completely built up, there would still be a clear, unobstructed and quite striking view of the Basilica (albeit at a slight angle) from Haywood St. Without seeing what the McKibben group is proposing, how can there be intelligent discussion of alternatives or even if alternatives are needed? Mountain Express, find and show us the plans, please.

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