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Tougher hurdles for building hotels reviewed, disputed
Wednesday, 05 April 2017 10:57
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Two members of Asheville City Council addressed how to get approval to build a hotel in Asheville — following a tightening of developmental rules in the Unified Development Ordinance — during a March 3 meeting of the Council of Independent Owners at UNC Asheville’s Sherill Center.

About 40 people attended the early- morning breakfast meeting.

Following the presentation, CIBO member Mac Swicegood asserted during a question-and-answer session,  “This (with its tighter hotel rules) is like ‘pay for play’… It’s like extortion.”

The two council members then vigorously disagreed with Swicegood’s claim. Swicegood listened and did not respond.

The two council members — Julie Mayfield and Cecil Bothwell — had pressing obligations and needed to leave early, so CIBO flipped its agenda and started with the hotel discussion.

The other item on the agenda — a panel discussion of future growth plans at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College — was shifted to the second and final item of the CIBO meeting.

Speaking first, Mayfield said she would strive “to set the stage on why we’re having this conversation....

“Council has made two decisions on hotels. First, in early February, council unanimously voted to deny that permit (to Park Hospitality Group) for a number of reasons. For me, it was the concentration of hotels around that area and concerns about parking. (After the permit denial, Raleigh developer Shaunak Patel, PHG president, told local news media that he plans to challenge the city’s decision in court.)  

“The second thing, two meetings ago, we adopted changed to the UDO about hotel development across the city, but especially all hotels over 21 rooms must come to the council” for a construction permit.

Mayfield added, “There are two dynamics, I think, that are happening. One is Asheville is in a position where we don’t want things to be done to us as a city. One is I-26... But we’re going to get to a better outcome because of it (the UDO rules- tightening)... Our hotels are not small. Most are over 130 rooms and have parking decks associated with them. They’re not small and they’re impacting downtown.

“We’re saying we want to work with you, but we want to make sure they’re beneficial to the city — and not just to the hotel.”

Further, Mayfield said, “The other dynamic, I think, is the ongoing and long-festering resentment about the tourism industry here. Some people say they don’t feel the city is for them anymore. I hear, ‘I just don’t come downtown anymore.’


 “There’s that and then there are people who are frustrated by the influx of tourism,” Mayfield said. “It’s wrapped up with the lower wages they get paid… There are a whole host of thing wrapped up in that. It’s just something that’s there.”


“Both of those sentiments are what drove our decision on the UDO…. We’re trying to give people some assurance that City Council is watching this” — that its “on the job and (council is) trying to address these concerns.”


Mayfield added, “There are people who feel City Council is in charge of building hotels. It’s our fault. We hear their ire. None of that is true, but what is behind that feeling is City Council should have more of a role in what’s getting built in the city.”


The second speaker, Bothwell, asserted, “My objection was to the the parking study” on the PHG permit rejection.


“There were flaws with the plan. Such as they said there’d be no queing. But there already is. The study was the product of a laboratory experiment. If you’re familiar with North French Broad (Avenue), going from Haywood Street, south, there’s a hump there. 


“We cannot. under state law, impose anything more than the state building code.


“We (council) constantly get blamed. 


“Frankly, people don’t show up at Planning and Zoning meetings ... Until recently, P&Z approved all but two hotel projects.


“Then again, we’re elected — and P&Z is appointed... I  don’t think it’s going to change much (with the UDO tightening). The projects that are approved. It will be healthier to get things out in the opening.


“Airbnb… huge amount of money coming into the community. That’s why I’ve been a supporter of allowing people to rent their” spare rooms.


“It seems a little skewed that those who benefit are coprorations from out of state — from the tourism boom (on hotel rooms).


“In addition to the room taxes, city taxpayers are underwriting the tourism industry. If they are, shouldn’t the taxpayers be able to get some benefit from them,” Bothwell said.


During a question-and-answer session that followed, the two council member strongly opposed CIBO member Mac Swicegood’s assertion that “this is like ‘pay for play’… It’s like extortion.”


To the contrary, Mayfield said, “I would say we’re doing something about it. It can’t go any faster than its going


“I would say on water and sewer, the city has many, many projects going.


“We can always disagree about where we’re spending our moneuy… Budgets are moral documents. So it’s perfectly understandable that the values on City Council now” are clear.


“In terms of the ‘pay to play,’ anybody who wants to do a major project in this city — who doesn’t come and speak with all of us — is not being very smart. It’s just something that should happen.”


To Swicegood’s comment, Bothwell said, “I would note in regard to Save the Roads, for instance — I discovered that the city is on a 70-year repaving schedule, versus best practice of 30 years. The reason was past councils chose lower taxes over doing the repaving. I mean… you get what you pay for. I’m not afraid to raise taxes. It’s up to the voters….”


Also asking commenting during the Q&A was Mark Brooks, who asserted, “Any project…. there are going to be people who don’t want to see changes. That’s just part of the job. There are going to be people who don’t want to see anything. That’s just a part of your job.


In response, Mayfield said, “Please do not make assumptions about us. I want to hear what you have to say. Please do not make the assumption that my ears are closed to you…. It’s not a huge universe... Mac (Swicegood), to your point ... I understand the ‘pay to play’… To some degree, it’s pretty unseemly. I do think those things can be avoided.”


 At that point, Mayfield praised hotel developer John McCibbons, who “walked in and had done his homework” and got approval to renovate  the former BB&T building on Pack Square into hotel rooms and condominiums.


Bothwell added, “It might be worthwhile for y’all to read the municipal code on the city website. It’s pretty well laid-out. We didn’t change those rules at all in essence. It’s taking a lot that had been going to Planning and Zoning and moved in on up to council. 


“We didn’t change any rules,” Bothwell said. “We just moved it to where people can see what’s going on. We don’t want to stop development. We need it.”


On a separate matter, a panel discussed future growth plans for A-B Tech.


The panel included Joe Brumit, CIBO member and a businessman and the chair of A-B Tech Board of Trustees; Dr. Dennis King, A-B Tech’s president; and Mike Fryar a member of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.


Brumit and King stressed the college’s importance to the community, providing “a gateway to the middle class,” as well as economic development by providing “a lot of people (who) are employed by A-B Tech.


King spoke about the need for a large new building at A-B Tech to meet both current and future needs.


Brummit said, “One of the best community partners we have is the largest private employer west of Charlotte — Mssion Health. To work with them, it’s going to take more infrastructure….


“Y’all know where health care is going. It’s going more to physician’s assistants, etc. Those are the folks we train.


“Whatever you think of Mission Health, it’s one of the best health care providers in the area,” Brummit said.


Fryar, while speaking positively about A-B Tech in general, said he and other commissioners want to make sure that a close watch is kept on the school’s budget.


“I’m between a rock and a hard place,” Fryar said. “I love the school, but as a county commissioner I’m responsible for the money....


“I’m not against this school and I’m not against building. It’s not the school’s fault... The only thing I can tell you is a $7 million was approved and we ended up with a $27 million (art, science and engineering) building.


“We’re over-budget…. How many business-owners in this room can be over-budget by that much and make it work?”


Fryar added, “My thing is, I want to fix what we have left... Open Enka (campus) back up. The buildings are still there. Let’s turn the electricity back on.


“I have to watch out for the taxpayers’ dollars… If we let this keep blooming, we’ll owe $400 million


“There are a lot of things we could do, if we wait for the taxes to come in.


Fryar also disagreed with Brummit’s and King’s assertion earlier about new buildings being needed because the school is growing. “The enrollment is not up,” Fryar said. “It’s gone down a bit. Let’s bring this through the people... We’ve got a lot of space we can still build out there.”


During a brief question-and-answer session afterward, CIBO’s Swicegood said, “I’ve got a lot of respect for A-B Tech, as well. A lot of it was lost through Dr. (Hank) Dunn (former A-B Tech president) and the ‘horse and pony show’” that Swicegood implied that Dunn had conducted with the public. “What is the enrollment” at A-B Tech.


King replied that there are “10,000 students who are curriculum-enrolled” and 23,000 students total. About 20 percent of our students are enrolled in online classes.”



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