Hotels, beer and affordable housing — City Council’s upcoming agenda offers an Asheville-appropriate slate of hot topics to welcome new City Manager Debra Campbell. Although she’s been in the city administration’s top job since Dec. 3, the former assistant city manager of Charlotte will take to the dais in City Hall for the first time at Council’s meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 11.
Two lodging projects will be up for debate: a 56-room hotel spread across four buildings on Biltmore Avenue downtown and a 170-room project on Fairview Road in Biltmore Village. The first proposes to convert three historic houses into accomodations and construct a new five-story structure with a restaurant, while the second would build a new six-story building.
Though the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission gave its unanimous recommendation to the Fairview Road project, the body’s approval vote for the Biltmore Avenue hotel was split 5-2. Dissenting members Laura Berner Hudson and Joe Archibald, explained city urban planner Sasha Vrtunski in a staff report available before the meeting, thought the new five-story building could be better used for residential housing and worried about displacement of existing businesses from the historic houses.
City staff supports both projects, noting their alignment with the “well-planned and livable community” goal in the 2036 Council vision statement. However, as city urban planner Jessica Bernstein noted in her report on the Fairview Road hotel, “staff also recommends the completion of the comprehensive plan policy that suggests a study of lodging uses, need and impact to aid in evaluating new lodging uses.”
The hotels will come before a Council that has recently shown skepticism toward approving any new lodging projects. Several Council members raised objections to hotel construction at their Oct. 23 meeting, including Brian Haynes. “As far as my vote goes, the moratorium has begun, especially when it comes to hotels in the central business district or near downtown,” he remarked.
In other business
Regarding another linchpin of Asheville’s tourism economy — beer — Council will be asked to approve an economic development incentive grant for Burial Beer Co. The brewery would be forgiven up to $30,000 in in city property taxes over a five-year period for an approximately $1.8 million investment in equipment and improvements for its existing facility.
In his staff report about the proposal, Community & Economic Development Director Sam Powers estimated that Burial’s spending would create 17 new median-wage jobs (at an annual salary of roughly $35,000). He added that the city would still take in approximately $19,000 in new taxes from Burial during the grant period.
Council will also hear an update regarding affordable housing opportunities on land currently owned or controlled by the city. As previously reported by Xpress, properties at the old Matthews Ford location on Biltmore Avenue, the current Public Works Garage and Fleet Management facilities on South Charlotte Street and the “Ice House” building on Riverside Drive could all be converted into affordable rental developments.
Of these locations, staff recommend the quickest action on Biltmore Avenue. On Council’s recommendation, the city would solicit proposals from developers and create an implementation plan to be approved in January. Developing the South Charlotte site would first require a study on the impacts of relocating existing city operations. Staff recommend signing a memorandum of understanding with community partners to further explore the Riverside Drive property, but its report notes that “this site was not as well-suited as the other sites for a traditional affordable housing development.”
The meeting’s consent agenda contains 11 items, which are typically approved as a package unless specifically singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following:
- A resolution conveying an easement over a portion of North Pack Square to the Arras Residences and Hotel for outdoor dining, access and landscaping. The hotel’s management would pay the city $76,120 for the 1,384-square-foot easement.
- A resolution to lease five batteries for the city’s new Proterra electric buses. Although the initial $118,000 per battery pre-payment has already been budgeted, the annual $20,000 per battery lease payment will be included in future Transit Operating Fund budgets.
- A resolution expanding the city’s previous agreement to transfer parts of its water system to Black Mountain. Staff believes the agreement will reduce Asheville’s maintenance expenses in the coming years, although it will also reduce city revenue.
- A resolution authorizing a 10-year lease to DeWine Seeds-Silver Dollar Baseball, the owner of the Asheville Tourists minor league baseball team, for McCormick Field. In exchange for the team’s continued operation, the city will lease the field for $1 per year and cover roughly $20,000 annually in plumbing and mechanical system maintenance.
Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. A work session for the fiscal year 2019-20 budget will be held in the same space starting at 3 p.m. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.