Time is quickly running out for members of Asheville City Council to decide on a new approach to hotels. At their meeting of Tuesday, Feb. 9, members will discuss the final proposed guidelines to streamline future lodging development — and residents will have one last chance to weigh in — before the city’s hotel moratorium expires on Tuesday, Feb. 23.
In September 2019, Council adopted a one-year pause on all hotel approvals so the city could create a more effective and transparent review process. The moratorium was extended in September 2020 following delays associated with the COVID-19 pandemic; hours of public engagement, multiple Council work sessions and several additional rounds of city committee and commission review have followed.
The resulting proposal outlines a complicated set of criteria that would allow a lodging project to bypass Council approval. First, a new hotel would have to fall within the newly drafted Hotel Overlay District, which limits hotels with 35 or more rooms to the east and west outskirts of downtown, the River Arts District and Biltmore Village, as well as areas along Smokey Park Highway, Tunnel Road and near the Asheville Outlet Mall. Projects falling outside the overlay map would require conditional zoning approval by Council.
Developers of projects within the overlay district would then be required to fulfill a series of development standards, pass a design review and score a certain number of public benefit points to be approved at the staff level. Following suggestions from Council members Sheneika Smith, Antanette Mosley and Gwen Wisler during October work sessions, potential benefits were expanded to include contracting with minority- or women-owned business enterprises, contributions to Asheville’s yet-to-be-established reparations fund and inclusion of affordable housing units at 80% or lower of the area median income.
Failure to comply with any of these steps would kick the project back to Council for a vote, as has been the process for hotels of more than 20 rooms since February 2017.
Asheville’s Planning and Zoning Commission held public hearings on Feb. 3 and 5 to finalize the proposal that Council will consider on Feb. 9. Live call-in comment was not accepted, a difference from Council’s usual practice that several residents said was not made clear to attendees in advance of the meetings.
In other news
Council members will also review applicants for city boards and commissions, including the 16 people who applied to fill three seats on the Asheville City Board of Education. As recently reported by Xpress, the system faces significant financial challenges and a potential budget deficit for the next school year.
At its last meeting, Council entertained the idea of pursuing state legislation to change the appointed school board to an elected body. But even if members decide to move forward with that goal, the next round of appointments is legally required to be made by Thursday, April 1.
The applicant pool includes Pepi Acebo, president of the parent-teacher organization at Montford North Star Academy; Kate Fisher, a longtime ACS volunteer, parent and vocal critic of system leadership; Libby Kyles, vice chair of the Asheville PEAK Academy and former CEO of the YWCA of Asheville; and George Sieburg, who has severed as the Asheville City Schools Foundation board chair and interim executive director. Current board members Joyce Brown, James Carter and Patricia Griffin are all seeking reappointment.
Consent agenda and public comment
The consent agenda for the meeting contains four items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- A resolution allowing City Manager Debra Campbell to enter a $1,079,805 contract with WxProofing LLC to replace windows and repair concrete at Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville. Funding will come from previously approved budgets for the center’s capital needs.
- A resolution to hold a public hearing at Council’s meeting of Tuesday, Feb. 23, to discuss the voluntary annexation of 0.47 acres off Oak Hill Circle and Moorecrest Road in West Asheville.
The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found at this link. Due to COVID-19, Council will meet remotely, and the meeting will be livestreamed through Asheville’s Public Engagement Hub.
Members of the public who wish to speak during the meeting must sign up in advance at this link or call 828-259-5900 no later than 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 9. City staff will then use the list of registered speakers to manage the speaker queue during the meeting.
Prerecorded voicemail messages can also be left at 855-925-2801, meeting code 8810; written comments can be sent to AshevilleCityCouncilFeb092021@PublicInput.com. Emails will be accepted for 24 hours after each public hearing.