A proposal to convert downtown’s historic Flatiron Building into an 80-room hotel still has some explaining to do, according to the Technical Review Committee at the board’s Jan. 7 meeting. Citing unresolved questions about parking and a planned bike lane for Battery Park Avenue, the TRC continued its review until more information is available.
Under Asheville’s Unified Development Ordinance, as explained by city planner Jessica Bernstein, all lodging projects must provide parking, but due to the Flatiron’s historic nature, creating spaces on site is impossible. The hotel would circumvent this limit by providing valet parking for all guests, but initial plans did not include the location of those spaces.
Chris Day, an engineer with Civil Design Concepts who is working on the project, said that he had tentatively identified the Buncombe County garage at 40 Coxe Ave. for hotel parking. He admitted that this situation will require another variance from the UDO, which requires off-site parking to be located within 500 feet of the project.
Additionally, the project would eliminate six existing on-street parking spaces on Battery Park Avenue in front of the Flatiron, to be replaced with a handicap-accessible space and a loading zone. Day said the latter space would not be exclusive to the hotel and could provide extra capacity for what he described as a “free-for-all of loading vehicles” that serve businesses on the street.
Another TRC concern centered around the proposed bike lane opposite from the hotel. While Bernstein said that the city is looking to add bike infrastructure in general, she added that more consideration should be given to how narrowing the travel lane would impact automobile users on Battery Park Avenue.
In response to this concern, Day noted that converting the Flatiron from its existing small retail and office use to lodging would reduce peak-hour trips by 30 to 40 cars per hour, according to recent analysis. The same study, he said, also projected less overall downtown parking demand due to the use change.
TRC members estimated that the Flatiron would come before the board again on Monday, Feb. 4, after project staff had formalized any plan changes. Pending approval, the project would then face a hearing at the Downtown Commission on Friday, Feb. 8, followed by the Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday, March 6.
Only after all three bodies have given their input could the project face a vote by City Council, which recently has been reluctant to approve new hotels. Council members rejected a proposed 170-room project in Biltmore Village on Dec. 12, while other projects have been withdrawn or continued.
After the TRC meeting, Charleston, S.C.-based developer Phillip Woollcott declined to comment about how Council’s recent decisions are influencing the Flatiron proposal. Day, however, said he would press forward in hopes that the project would get a fair hearing.
“I think each of these, as Council members have said, are being considered on a case-by-case basis,” Day said. “So creating an opportunity for that to happen is our goal right now.”