As Asheville continued to dig itself out of the snowfall from its recent winter storm, a pair of hotel projects faced a chilly reception at City Council’s Dec. 11 meeting. A 170-room proposal on Fairview Road was voted down 6-1, with only Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler dissenting, while a public hearing on a 56-room project on Biltmore Avenue was continued at the developer’s request until March 26.
Although city staff supported the Fairview Road project, calling it compatible with tourist use of the nearby Biltmore Village Historic District and Biltmore Estate, Council members Vijay Kapoor and Julie Mayfield raised concerns about the hotel’s place in longer-term plans for Asheville. Both stressed that their opposition was to the particular proposal, drawing a contrast with the blanket moratorium Brian Haynes placed on his own approval of new hotels at Council’s Oct. 23 meeting.
Kapoor pointed out that seven hotels are already present near Biltmore Village and that one more is currently under construction. Approving yet another hotel there, he argued, would run counter to the diversity of uses Council hoped to see in “town center” areas as articulated by the Living Asheville Comprehensive Plan.
Traffic concerns, Kapoor added, made the project undesirable as well. While the developer had conducted a traffic study, he said, its scope failed to consider the hotel’s impact on the intersection of Sweeten Creek Road and Hendersonville Road.
“That’s where you sit through four or five cycles of lights,” Kapoor said, due to visitors accessing the Biltmore Estate. “That area always backs up and is a complete mess starting at 3 o’clock.”
Mayfield also cited the Living Asheville plan in her critique of the project. She said the hotel’s 140-space surface parking lot and resulting low density were not aligned with the walkable, mixed-use vision Council has for the area.
“I still don’t know the answer to the question of how we get the development we want if we don’t start asking for it,” Mayfield said. “This does not, in my mind, look like what a town center should look like.”
Derek Allen, a lawyer representing Columbus, Ohio-based developer Rockbridge, argued that his client’s site was too small to meet all the criteria for a town center but that it contributed to the “patchwork quilt” of the area. “If you stand at 25,000 feet, then you have a hotel at either end of Biltmore Village. You have tons of new residential in Biltmore Village; you have more than 40 shops owned and operated that thrive on local patrons being able to walk to it,” he said.
Allen also noted that, as a brownfield, the proposed hotel site was ineligible for long-term residential development. “Turning down all projects because they’re hotels makes no more sense than letting them all through,” he said, as he asked Council to consider the project on its own merits.
Despite Allen’s efforts, Kapoor moved to deny the project, and Keith Young quickly gave his second. They were joined by the rest of Council in turning down the hotel, with the exception of Wisler, who did not share the rationale for her position.