Flatiron hotel project seeks final zoning approval from Council

UP IN THE AIR: Asheville City Council will decide on during the Tuesday, April 23 meeting whether the historic Flatiron Building can be converted from office space into a hotel. Photo by Virginia Daffron

After the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission recommended its approval on April 8, Asheville City Council represents the last step for a petition from owner Russell Thomas and developer Phillip Woollcott to rezone the property at 20 Battery Park Avenue — better known as the Flatiron Building. Following a public hearing at its April 23 meeting, Council will decide whether to allow the historic structure to be converted into a hotel, which Woollcott claims is the only way to financially support the building’s much-needed restoration work.

The conditional zoning would permit the existing property to shift from its current primarily office use into 80 lodging units, a restaurant and ground-level retail spaces. According to a staff report available before the meeting, the renovations will also require that the sidewalk on Battery Park Avenue in front of the building be widened and six existing metered public parking spaces be replaced by a loading zone to accommodate the proposed valet off-site hotel parking and one accessible parking space.

Plans to renovate the nearly 100-year-old building have been met with pushback from residents and business owners who have noted the abundance of hotels in the downtown corridor. At least 10 hotels can be found within a half-mile radius of the building, including two hotels directly across the street from the property, according to the staff report. Concerns about parking, traffic congestion and the displacement of small businesses currently occupying the building have also been raised.

Despite the density of hotels in the area, the staff report recommended the project, writing that updated safety features and the historical preservation of the building “outweigh staff concerns.” The report also noted that any change in use of the building, not just a hotel conversion, would likely cause the displacement of small businesses.

In other business

In an effort to address affordable housing concerns, Council will consider a policy for developing city-owned land for affordable housing, as outlined in the 2015 Comprehensive Housing Strategy and Policy Framework plan. A 2015 Housing Needs Assessment report found that the city needed nearly 4,000 units affordable to those making below 80% area median income to begin addressing the housing gap. If the policy is implemented, the city will begin by soliciting affordable housing development proposals for 319 Biltmore Avenue and 91 Riverside Drive.

Council was also slated for a second public hearing on conditional zoning for the former Sears property at 1 South Tunnel Road to allow a mixed-use development including 205 residential units, dining, entertainment and retail. Members delayed approval of the project on March 12 after raising concerns over its adherence to city planning standards and residential affordability. However, the hearing will be continued until Tuesday, May 28.

Consent agenda

Council’s consent agenda for the meeting contains six items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include resolutions to:

  • Oppose offshore drilling, citing environmental concerns such as oil spills, habitat destruction and ocean noise. The resolution notes that North Carolina’s ocean economy contributed more than $2 billion to gross domestic product in 2013 and was responsible for more than 43,000 jobs.
  • Authorize an interlocal agreement with Land of Sky Regional Council to provide 20% in matching funds, in the amount of $25,593 over 2 years, to complete corridor studies on Tunnel and Hendersonville Road. The French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization will manage the studies; if approved, work will begin in summer 2019 and take approximately 18 months to complete.
  • Authorize an application for federal funds to purchase two hybrid buses at a total cost of approximately $1,500,000. The purchase of the buses is a part of the Transit Master Plan, which aims to expand and improve the City’s public transportation system over a 10-year period. If awarded, the city is required to match 15% of the grant, or $225,000.

Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.

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3 thoughts on “Flatiron hotel project seeks final zoning approval from Council

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    seems like an office bldg is more needed downtown than another hotel, but if the offices are renovated then rents WILL go way up in the bldg…the low rents now are gone any way.

    • luther blissett

      The tacit agreement in the building was that tenants accepted an indifferent landlord who let maintenance slide in exchange for an affordable space.

      But it isn’t even a question of affordability any more: office space for self-employed professionals barely exists at any price, especially if you require it to be handicapped-accessible. Co-working spaces and flex-spaces are no good if you need privacy or storage. There is plenty of demand for 150 sq. ft. at $500 or $600/month, and no supply.

      You could make the “first they came for…” joke, but downtown gentrification’s now coming for lawyers and CPAs and insurance brokers, and that can’t be a good thing.

  2. Froscari

    With minimal effort, one can find over 80,000 SF of office space available in the central business district. That is something like 3 times more than what can be rented in the ENTIRE Flatiron building. If there’s such a demand for offices, why is so much space vacant? If the available spaces are too large for the 150 sf and $500/month tenants, then a savvy landlord will pick up on that and adjust accordingly. If they don’t, they go out of business.

    The Flatiron building has been a class C office building for a long long time. Its 92 years old and in need of significant and expensive repair. The current owner took a risk in 1984 when downtown Asheville was mostly vacant and very run down. (You want to talk about locals not going downtown anymore? You should have been here in the early 80’s). He’s invested a lot of time, hard earned money and energy into this building and provided small offices to small businesses for decades. He should be commended for taking that risk and investing in a building that nobody wanted. He’s been a good steward of the building and it’s time for him to move on and let someone else carry the load.

    But no, Asheville can’t allow that. We have people, not only in hipster West Asheville, or gentrified Montford, or bohemian Lexington Ave where it seems the true local Ashevillians live, work and play (and gladly sell stuff to the tourists staying in downtown hotels), but even a letter writer in Candler (good job mountain X with publishing that), get to tell him what he can do with his building? Because they don’t like tourists, or they think it will increase traffic, or garbage, or parking problems? And heaven forbid, the folks in the million dollar condos across the street who moved downtown in the last 6 months to 8 years might be inconvenienced. Now that you’re here, nothing can change?

    Do you guys hear yourself? Isn’t there more than a little bit of hypocrisy going on?

    The building is for sale. I suggest the people who don’t want this to be a hotel raise the money and buy it. You’re welcome to leave it as it is, or turn it into whatever you want that’s not a hotel. You can search for another Julian Price to bail you out, but, you’re not allowed to ask the City for one cent of subsidy. You have to make it on your own, just like the current owner has made it on his own for the last 35 years.

    And by the way, someone that truly understands economics please point to reliable research that shows how an increase in hotel rooms causes a decrease in affordable housing. Not your opinion, but real research by a credible source.

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