Asheville City Council’s meeting of Sept. 8 was jam-packed with discussions surrounding hot-button issues. The city’s hotel moratorium, its response to early June protests over the police killing of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd and amendments to the city’s development ordinances for tree canopy preservation were all on the docket.
Hotel recommendations miss the mark
Asheville’s hotel critics can breathe easy for a little longer. City Council expressed unanimous support for extending the city’s hotel moratorium — previously set to expire later in September — an additional five months, giving Council and city staff more time to fully develop new standards for hotel development.
Todd Okolichany, Asheville’s planning and urban design director, gave Council a detailed update on the status of the Urban Land Institute’s hotel development study during the Sept. 8 meeting. Last fall, the city contracted with the nonprofit consultancy to assess how new hotel development could better meet community needs, he said.
ULI recommended an incentive-based approach to review all future hotel proposals. Points would be awarded for public benefits, such as affordable housing options or a living wage for all employees; technical standards, such as maximum height; and an assessment by a design review board. If a hotel met the requirements for all three categories, Okolichany said, it could be approved at the staff level, a shift from the current conditional zoning process that requires Council review.
Council members were skeptical of the proposed plan, claiming it would do nothing to slow the pace of hotels.
“This system is not designed to limit hotel development; it’s just making a clear path to do so if we pass the recommendations as I’ve seen them,” argued Brian Haynes. “We’re in the midst of a pandemic. We’ve got hotels opening back up that a lot of us didn’t even want to have opening in the first place. And we’re going to talk about building more and returning to the system that was failing us to begin with?”
“If I’m going to take Council out of this role, the requirements have to be really, really high and stringent for me,” added Julie Mayfield.
Instead of going ahead with a two-month moratorium extension, as had been proposed by staff before the meeting, Council unanimously expressed support for a five-month extension. In that time, members will hold a work session on requirements for future development and send those recommendations to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission for incorporation.
Two public commenters also backed a five-month extension, urging Council members to consider their recent commitment to reparations for the Black community as they developed new hotel standards.
“It’s really easy to move to Asheville as a young, white professional, and that is at the expense of people who’ve been living here for generations, specifically at the expense of our Black community — that’s the legacy of urban renewal,” said Daniel Ullom, a civil engineer who said his work in the community was spurred by the city’s growth. “Hotel development was good for my bank account and career, but it is not good for the city in the long run.”
Because of virtual meeting requirements, Council will not officially vote to extend the hotel moratorium until its meeting of Tuesday, Sept. 22.