Redux: Council to decide fate of Flatiron at May 14 meeting

Asheville city seal

After an unexpected delay on April 23 that left an already anxious public without an answer to whether the property at 20 Battery Park Avenue, better known as the Flatiron Building, would be converted from office space into a boutique hotel, owner Russell Thomas and developer Phillip Woollcott are again scheduled to make their case to Asheville City Council. On Tuesday, May 14, Council members will have the final say on the rezoning of the historic structure.

As previously reported in Xpress, Woollcott claims that hotel use is the only way to financially support the building’s much-needed restoration work, which is estimated to cost around $10 million. 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 an April 23 staff report, 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 valet service for the proposed 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.

City staff members recommend the project despite the density of hotels in the area, writing that updated safety features and the historical preservation of the building “outweigh staff concerns.” The report noted that any change in use of the building, not just a hotel conversion, would likely cause the displacement of small businesses. Woollcott’s proposal also has the support of the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County.

In other business

Council members and the public will get their first look at City Manager Debra Campbell’s budget proposal for the 2019-20 fiscal year. At $190.31 million, the total budget is 5.4% larger than last year’s; overestimation of new property and sales taxes resulting from the sale of Mission Health to for-profit HCA Healthcare, however, has forced city officials to reconsider their spending plans.

Council will decide also whether to interview applicants for vacancies on the Citizens-Police Advisory Committee, Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee and Human Relations Commission. So far, the Citizens-Police Advisory Committee has only received one applicant for the seat previously held by Asheville Housing Authority CEO Gene Bell.

Consent agenda

Council’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 12 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include resolutions to:

  • Waive repair permit fees for residential and commercial property owners affected by flooding on April 19-20. Approximately 25 structures were affected when water exceeded the banks of the French Broad and Swannanoa Rivers; staff members estimate that less than half of those structures need a permit for repairs.
  • Renew a contract with Raleigh-based Blanchard, Miller, Lewis and Isley, P.A. for lobbying services at the N.C. General Assembly. The contract will be extended for two years at $144,000 total, or $6,000 per month.
  • Renew a contract with Waste Pro of North Carolina to provide bulk refuse and recycling collection for city government facilities. The contract would be amended from one year to four and increase the service rate by 3.5% for fiscal year 2020.
  • Set a public hearing on Tuesday, May 28 to consider the adoption of the Fiscal Year 2019-20 Annual Operating Budget. This meeting represents the only formal opportunity for members of the public to comment on the document.

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.

Edited at 4:44 p.m. to reflect availability of the city’s proposed budget document.

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3 thoughts on “Redux: Council to decide fate of Flatiron at May 14 meeting

  1. Lawrence Sutherland

    I’ll soon be retiring in Asheville, but will visit at least once again, beforehand. I’d love to stay in a room at the Flatiron. I just hope it has intentional touches that would make it properly reminiscent of prior history.

  2. SpareChange

    It strikes me as politically, economically and intellectually dishonest to frame debate over the future of the Flatiron building as a binary choice. That either it MUST be redeveloped as a for-tourists showpiece (i.e., a high end boutique hotel), or it will remain as is and slide into further decline.

    For more than 90 years the Flatiron building has functioned as a practical, multi-purpose building primarily serving the needs of residents and businesses. Through its longevity and unique design it has earned a special place in the hearts of Ashevillians, but it was never a showpiece building marketed as a tourist attraction.

    Yes, the local economy has changed and at present there is an abundance of both outside and local capital for investment in tourism/hotels. However, if the city, which is now riding the crest of an economic boom, is truly in a situation where the only possible way for this building to have a future is for it to become yet another hotel, then our structural economic problems are far bigger than anyone imagined. I sincerely hope the city council musters the political will to say, “no,” to the proposal and encourages new plans for its redevelopment as a mixed use building.

    • luther blissett

      The “historical preservation” argument essentially grants that the current property owner took on more building than he could take care of, bails him out, and allows him to walk away with the profits.

      The key question to be asked at tonight’s meeting: has City Council identified 70 comparable vacant office spaces in downtown? If not downtown, then in the city? If not in the city, then in the county? If the answer is “no” — and a cursory glance at listings will tell you that — then it’s a vote to put professional businesses out of business.

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