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.
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.