Asheville’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved plans for a 61-room downtown hotel at its regular meeting on Feb. 1. The Commission also recommended that City Council reject proposed zoning changes that would result in increased oversight of downtown and hotel development by Council.
Chair Jeremy Goldstein welcomed committee members and the public at 5:02 p.m. with a reminder of the Commission’s authority and its limits. “If this project meets all of the technical requirements, then we are obligated to approve it,” he said.
Urban Planner Sasha Vrtunski introduced changes to designs for The Parisian, a six-story hotel proposed on the site of and above the former Bank of America building at 68 Patton Ave. across the street from Pritchard Park.
According to a staff memo:
The project proposes to build a 6-story hotel building with 61 hotel rooms. The current building will be expanded to the front property line and three (3) additional stories of height will be added. There are 50 off-site parking spaces that already exist on Buncombe and Aston Streets to the south of the project. The total commercial building square footage is 74,000 sf and approximately 180 sf of outdoor dining. Building height is 65’ 8”, to the floor of the top story. Overall height not including roof elements is approximately 82 feet, measured from Patton Avenue.
The back of the building along Commerce Street encroaches into the ROW by 1 foot with columns at the sidewalk level. The top 2 floors of the building overhang the sidewalk on Commerce by an additional 3 feet. To enable the current design, the applicant will have to have an easement approved for the columns in the sidewalk and air rights for the upper floors. Both of these will have to be approved by City Council.
Earlier in January, Vrtunski said, the Asheville Downtown Commission recommended against approval for the proposed hotel on a 5-4 vote. Vrtunski described that vote as “weird,” saying those opposed seemed to have more opinions about the look of the hotel than whether the design conforms to applicable building requirements. Vrtunski said the plans do meet certain disputed requirements, such as the shadow requirement, a rule controlling the maximum number of hours each day a building can cast a shadow over a park.
Peter Alberice, the architect who designed the project, said The Parisian not only meets all technical requirements, but also fits Asheville’s aesthetic. “They like the idea of small, boutique hotels that are in Paris and other cities in Europe,” Alberice said of the project’s developers in planning the hotel’s look. “They wanted to have us design a building in a way that brings up some of the historic architecture in downtown Asheville.”
Alberice said a few modifications had been made to the design prior to the Commission’s review, including roofline and sidewalk revisions and where the drop-off area for hotel guests would be located.
At 5:20 p.m., Goldstein opened the floor for public comment. No one came forward to speak. Board member and Asheville architect Laura Hudson broke the silence. “I do think that you should be aware that Asheville’s not a theme park,” she said. “This is our urban space, and I feel like we’re trading some of that for this imaginary spectacle.”
Hudson explained that she did not think the hotel is a bad project, but that it has the potential for negative consequences.
“There’s something frustrating about having Asheville turn into something almost Vegas-like,” Hudson said. “Is the next one going to be a pyramid?”
Hudson asked how the hotel would affect traffic flow, especially on Patton Avenue. Alberice parried by suggesting that Patton Avenue is already congested, due to buses stopping and the high volume of downtown traffic. “Why should we be singled out as the problem?” he asked.
Vice President of MRK Property Development Brett Krueger said the developer’s intention is to be “as Asheville as possible,” meaning they will stick to a small, boutique-like style and not develop any additional chains of this specific hotel.
The Planning & Zoning Commission voted to approve the hotel with a 6-1 vote. Commission member Guillermo Rodriguez cast the dissenting vote. Approval for the column incursions on Commerce Street and air rights for the building’s upper floors will require a vote of City Council.
Zoning and Ordinance Change
Next on the meeting agenda was a zoning ordinance change brought to the floor by Alan Glines, Assistant Director for the city’s Planning and Urban Design Department. Glines explained how a zoning wording amendment would affect different sizes of building projects. Glines said initial planning for the amendment began in December 2015 and was launched in response to public concern about the pace of development downtown.
Goldstein asked Glines to clarify what specific regulations would be made around categorizing buildings and whether or not these would be realistic. Goldstein said he was concerned the change in zoning may lead to unintended consequences such by encouraging developers to duck the increased level of oversight by building outside of Asheville.
At 6:16 p.m., the floor opened for public comment. Several members of the public offered opinions on why the wording amendment was either a useful or unrealistic idea.
After public comment closed, Vice Chair Kristy Carter asked, “Would we be having this conversation if it weren’t for the hotels?” She added that she was unsure whether or not the issues at hand are a problem that needs such large-scale fixing, or even if this amendment is the right way to go about fixing it.
“I think there’s an emotional response to growth, an emotional response to tourists and crowdedness,” Goldstein said. “I used to drive through Asheville in December and January with no one around. I miss that. But I don’t think that we’re going to really be able to raise the drawbridge, so to speak, by making every hotel in the city of Asheville conditional zoning. That’s not going to stop tourists from coming, it’s just going to force it to building further out, force more people to drive in. I just think it will be unintended consequences. I think this is not good policy.”
Goldstein then moved to recommend City Council deny the proposed changes because the zoning amendment politicizes the development process, discourages development where it’s most needed, could contribute to sprawl and could discourage the new construction of housing and other needed development. Goldstein’s motion passed on a 6-1 vote, with Hudson opposed.
The next meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting is set for March 1.
Also see: Asheville Council to review more building projects citywide, especially hotels, Sept. 28, Xpress