Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church will have to hold off on plans to build an education building next to the church and to level, grade and reconfigure its parking lot following a decision in Superior Court by Judge Richard L. Doughton.
The church has leased 75 parking spaces to the new Asheville Foundry Inn, a hotel being built adjacent to the church property on Spruce Street, and the developers argue that closing the parking lot would harm the hotel.
In December 2014, the church sold two parcels of land totaling just more than an acre to Hilton Hotels for $3.5 million.
The three buildings already on the site, known as the Foundry Buildings, are being integrated into the 92-room hotel, along with two new buildings. The complex will include a 100-seat restaurant, 3,500-square-foot lounge with a library and fireplaces, 3,600-square-foot luxury spa and fitness center, and about 3,000 square feet of meeting and event space. Because the hotel property is too small to include parking, the developer leased 75 parking spaces from the church for a period of 10 years, two of which have elapsed.
Since hotel construction began, the church has objected to construction equipment being parked in its lot and on its side of Spruce Street, in part because the church says the heavy equipment damaged the lot. But when the church tried to close off its lot to construction equipment, Asheville Foundry Inn went to court and obtained a temporary restraining order, which has allowed the hotel to continue to use church property as a staging area for the construction.
Then, when the church announced plans last summer to close its parking lot for five months during construction of a new education building and renovations to the lot, Asheville Foundry Inn sued to stop the construction, claiming the lease agreement does not allow the church to close the lot, erect a building on some of the spaces or reconfigure the lot.
The church has two parking lots, one adjacent to the church and one with a separate entrance just down the hill. In all, the lots contain 90 spaces. Asheville Foundry Inn claims its lease is for the spaces in the upper lot, adjacent to the hotel. The church’s plans would leave only 45 spaces for hotel and restaurant customers if the church’s project isn’t finished by the hotel’s target opening date of July.
The hotel’s attorneys say the lease agreement for 75 parking spaces was a condition of the hotel’s financing.
“We want to reach an agreement, but we want to be able to upgrade our parking lot and build a new education building,” said Mount Zion pastor the Rev. Dr. John H. Grant before the Feb. 12 court hearing. “We are looking for parking the hotel can use until we finish, but they want the spaces adjacent to their property.” According to Grant, the hotel pays $35 per month per space to lease the parking.
During the hearing in Superior Court, the church’s attorney, William Durr, of Ward and Smith in Asheville, argued that the agreement allows the church to repave and make other improvements to the lot. He said spaces in the lower lot would remain available.
An attorney for the inn, Michael Montecalvo, of Womble, Bond, Dickinson in Winston-Salem, countered that the proposed project goes beyond mere parking lot improvements and could cause irreparable harm to the hotel’s business. According to Montecalvo, the lease agreement states both parties must agree to any construction in the parking lot, and the agreement allows only for minimum changes to the lot, not closing or reconfiguring it.
Doughton issued a temporary injunction that will prevent the church from closing the parking lot as negotiations continue.
“We would be willing to do the work in stages, but that could raise our costs by $250,000,” Grant said on Feb. 15. “We do want to settle this matter and we want to do it out of court.” The church received permits for the construction, which had been set to begin Jan. 22.
Negotiations will continue, Grant said, because to drag it out for months or years is not an option,”especially since whichever side loses in court would have to pay the legal fees of the other.”
“We really don’t know what our options are right now,” Grant said. “We’ll have to keep talking. It’s in everyone’s best interests to settle this sooner, rather than later.”