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Developers triumph in legal battle against Asheville; 8-story hotel project to be built
Wednesday, 01 November 2017 20:59

From Staff Reports

Superior Court Judge William Coward in late October overturned Asheville City Council’s Jan. 24 decision to deny Parks Hospitality Group’s petition to build a 185-room Embassy Suites hotel in Asheville’s Central Business District’s western gateway. 

The developers’ challenge of the decision was filed soon after council’s rejection of the project.

Plans depicted a $24 million, eight-story, classy and glassy modern accent piece for 192 Haywood Street, the former location of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s offices. 

It will be located across the street from another PHG project, the Hyatt Place hotel, which opened for business almost two years ago. Plans also proposed a 200-space parking deck.

The developers challenged council’s decision on the grounds they had met all seven requirements for procuring a conditional-use permit. Those conditions require, among other things, that the project not endanger public health or safety, that it not put undue stress on existing infrastructure and not substantially damage surrounding property values, and that it comply with all pertinent city plans.

In addition, they claimed council had been out-of-bounds in making demands for a $50,000 contribution to the city’s affordable housing fund.

Going one step further, they charged members of council had broken statutory guidelines in arriving at their decision. The applicants had sought a conditional-use permit for the building, which meant it would be approved by a quasi-judicial hearing, and in a quasi-judicial process, members of the deciding body cannot discuss the project with the applicant prior to the hearing.

 In this instance, Lou Bissette and Bob Oast, representing the plaintiff, charged their client was approached the day of the hearing by Ben Teague. Teague, who is the economic development director for the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, was serving as a go-between, and he presented the developer with a list of demands council was going to impose before it would approve the project.

 Bissette and Oast say Teague had emerged with the list following a meeting earlier that same day with Mayor Esther Manheimer, City Manager Gary Jackson, and Corey Atkins, the chamber’s Vice President of Public Policy.

 The list demanded that the developers make the contribution to the affordable housing fund, build parking spaces beyond what the hotel and the city’s Unified Development Ordinance require, and pay all employees a living wage. The attorneys claim members of council had already made up their minds before the hearing, which, properly conducted, would have given their client due process.

 Council had made similar demands of hotelier John McKibbon when he was seeking approval for the Arras hotel, which will soon open as the radically renovated BB&T skyscraper downtown. McKibbon graciously agreed to comply, setting what Councilman Gordon Smith has since termed, the “McKibbon standard.”

 The difference was, McKibbon had applied for a conditional zoning, which engages a design review process not bound by the constraints imposed on applicants seeking a conditional use permit.

 The mayor has not yet said, as of the Daily Planet’s Oct. 25 press deadline, if the city intends to challenge the decision in the North Carolina Court of Appeals.



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