With the unanimous support of Asheville City Council members during their Sept. 24 meeting, the city will implement a temporary ban on new hotel approvals starting Sept. 25. In the same meeting — as if to hammer home their point — Council members also unanimously denied the proposed mixed-use hotel Create 72 Broadway.
“I hope you all heard a massive sigh of relief in the community when [the hotel moratorium] was proposed. I think there were thousands of people that were relieved,” resident Daren Callahan told Council members during public comment on the issue.
The ban is scheduled to last one year, and extensions will not be available without extenuating circumstances, City Attorney Brad Branham told Council members during a Sept. 10 meeting. City officials must use the time to develop new policies for considering hotel proposals. Hotel projects of more than 20 rooms, as well as any building over 100,000 square feet, must receive Council approval; however, Council members currently have no standardized criteria for approval of new hotel projects.
The first phase of the moratorium, as outlined in a presentation by Branham and Todd Okolichany, the city’s director of planning and urban design, will involve contracting with the Charlotte-based Urban Land Institute. The research nonprofit’s real estate and land use experts will examine hotel industry trends, impacts and best management practices and provide the city with a written report by the start of next year.
The second phase of the moratorium, led by city staff, will include community engagement and public input. Staff members will then begin drafting recommendations and present plans to Council before the ban’s end next September.
Several speakers during the Sept. 24 meeting said that, while they look forward to the city quantifying tourism issues such as hotel saturation and infrastructure demands, Council should make the assessment more comprehensive, with consideration of environmental impacts and changes to the overall character of the city. Speaker Ashley Cooper also displayed skepticism over the notion of the city undertaking a study without implementing new policies.
“Unfortunately, every one of you knows how many plans and research studies have happened in this city that have sat on shelves and not been turned into anything,” Cooper said.
Many speakers echoed a suggestion from Council member Brian Haynes, who said that the city should examine the distribution of the occupancy tax managed by the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. The 6% tax, collected on all lodging sales in Buncombe County, generated $23 million in revenue last year, 75% of which went toward advertising and public relations efforts to increase area tourism. The remaining 25% flowed into the Tourism Product Development Fund, which provides grants to capital projects with the potential to boost overnight stays.
No money from the occupancy tax, however, goes directly to city operations. City property owners foot the bill for police and fire service, road and sidewalk repair and construction and the costs associated with managing and cleaning up after large numbers of visitors.
Council member Julie Mayfield, who also serves on the TDA board as a nonvoting member, noted that the TDA’s ongoing Tourism Management and Investment Plan is examining the role of tourism in the community and will broaden the scope of occupancy tax distribution. Yet she stopped short of saying that the funds could be used for infrastructure or other needs not directly tied to tourism promotion. She also pushed back at the notion that the city should challenge the state law that dictates how occupancy taxes are spent.
“I don’t think it would be possible, certainly with the current legislature, for the city to unilaterally secure a change to that,” Mayfield said. “From my standpoint, this is an opportunity for the city and the TDA to find a way to cooperate so that more of those occupancy tax dollars come to the city to meet the needs of our residents in a way that everybody has expressed tonight.”