Most community meetings about development projects, observed Chris Day of Civil Design Concepts, are a little different from the Sept. 6 session in the Pack Memorial Library auditorium. Most meetings don’t end with an attendee calling out, “All right, everyone get your pitchforks!”
About 80 residents gathered to discuss 95 Broadway Hotel & Condos, a seven-story development of 30 guest rooms, 25 parking spots and seven condos proposed by property owner Victor Foo. Not a single attendee spoke in favor of the project, with criticisms ranging from practical concerns over parking to philosophical worries over the ongoing gentrification of Asheville.
Owners and employees at businesses on nearby North Lexington Avenue argued that a large boutique hotel would be out of character for a neighborhood of what one commenter called “tattoo shops and dive bars.” In the words of Steve Mann, co-owner of The Lazy Diamond bar directly adjacent to the proposed site, “I love the Lazy Diamond people, but if I’m going to spend $300 a night on a hotel, I do not want to be next to that bar.”
Mann and others said that hotel guests could have a chilling effect on the area’s music scene if they regularly call the police with noise complaints. An attendee identifying himself only as Zero, who said he works at a boutique hotel, recounted how Strada Italiano, a restaurant across the road, recently attempted to revitalize its business by adding live music events.
“That got shut down after three months,” Zero said. “They were unable to revamp that project because of the complaints that came out of the hotel that I work at. At best it’s negligent, and at the least it’s predatory, in preying on the businesses around you.”
Ashley Graber, owner of Superstition Boutique on Commerce Street, added that building more hotels in the area would directly dilute the city’s attraction to visitors. “North Lexington Avenue has been the last stronghold of what makes Asheville Asheville,” she said. “Whether we want it or not, tourists love that.”
Additional complaints centered on the community engagement process itself. Casey Campfield, owner of The Crow & Quill bar, said that only property owners were notified of the developer’s first meeting on July 9, not occupants. A total of eight owners attended that first event; in a summary submitted to city staff after the meeting, Civil Design Concepts wrote, “Neighbors thought the plan was better than existing conditions and liked the overall project.”
Campfield, joined by several members of his bar’s Service Workers in Solidarity union, claimed that initial failure to notify nearby tenants had already placed the developer out of compliance with city ordinances. “I personally am going to show up at every meeting and bring more and more people to fight this,” he said.
One attendee evaluated the developer’s notice to the wider public, consisting of a single small sign on the proposed site, as “some Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy bullshit.” Another said that without the efforts of busking advocate and recent City Council candidate Andrew Fletcher, who posted flyers about the meeting, many of those in the crowd would have been unaware.
Day pointed out that this community meeting was only the first step in a lengthy process. The project must pass through the city’s Technical Review Committee, Downtown Commission and Planning and Zoning Commission before facing a final vote from City Council, which he estimated would take place in four to five months.
“I am not here to be the mouthpiece. I am here to understand the bigger picture of what this conversation was,” Day said. “I am not the avenue to convey this.”