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Mayfield grilled over hotel moratorium plan
Wednesday, 02 October 2019 22:15
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Asheville City Councilwoman Julie Mayfield gave a presentation to Council of Independent Business Owners — as promoted on the CIBO agenda — “on efforts to place a hotel moratorium on the city.”

The Sept. 6 breakfast meeting, held in UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center, also featured presentations on concerns about crime and violence in downtown Asheville and an update by Brownie Newman, chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, on recent legal action and settlements involving former county officials and others. (See front-page story for those addresses.)

Before addressing the hotel moratorium issue, Mayfield said, “One more point, just to emphasize something Cathy (Ball) said regarding the last discussion (regarding crime downtown) … We funded every request that’s come to us from the police department. We particularly invested in the downtown unit, which was $1million — or closer to $2 million.”

Turning to her moratorium presentation, Mayfield began by asking, “How many in the audience think the city is anti-hotel?”

Many — of not most — CIBO members’ hands went up.

Mayfield then asked, “How many hotels have not been approved?” in the last five years.

Before anyone had a chance to raise his hand, Carl Koon shouted out, “Two!” prompting much laughter from his CIBO brethren. (Koon is a member of the city Planning and Zoning Commission)

Smiling, Mayfield said, “The city has approved 12 (hotel projects) and denied two.”

Koon asked, “Was 12 right?”

“I don’t know,” Mayfield replied, triggering yet more laughter from the CIBO crowd.

“At least seven (were approved), and we denied two. I still go back to how do you get the sentiment that we (City Council) are anti-hotel?”

“How many think we (council) hate hotels?” Mayfield then queried.

In response, several hands shot up from the CIBO audience.

“Also, not true,” Mayfield asserted. “We (council) can’t just push the ‘pause button’ and declare them illegal....

“It just became clear that we needed a set of standards... All seven of us (council members) bring a completely different lens for looking at hotels.

“What that does is, it leaves applicants completely in the dark on how they can get their project through” council.

“So the purpose of a (proposed) moratorium is to try to (give us time to) get everyone (on council) on the same page.

“So under state law, we can declare a moratorium…. So the proposal that is going to City Council this month (September) is for a one-year moratorium. Once we finish the work, we can’t leave the moratorium in place. The moratorium will be citywide. And (the proposal specifies) that we have a process that involves everyone.

“So we’re going to take this time to set up benchmarks so developers and the public will be able the understand the framework we will be applying.

“We need a broad-based stakeholder group to have a broad-based group,” Mayfield said, inviting CIBO members to volunteer their efforts with the group.

“Hopefully, City Council can adopt” the hotel moratorium proposal that she just spelled out, she said in concluding her presentation.

During a question-and-answer session afterward, CIBO member Mac Swicegood told Mayfield, “Hotels are already a ‘conditional-use’ that have to go before City Council” for approval. “We’ve got a number of hotels that already are in process and being built. We have new ones in the front, others in the pipeline. Explain the rules.”

“We already have rules in place,” Mayfield answered.

Disagreeing, Swicegood said, “You have ‘conditional-use.’”

“We told everyone to come to us (council) — and that’s when” the complications ensued, Mayfield said.

In answer to another question, she noted that hotel “projects that are approved, (will) keep going. If you haven’t, the moratorum applies” — and such projects cannot be considered for approval until the moritorium ends.

An unidentified man asked, “If you (council) set the rules, why should politicians be involved at all?”

“I agree,” Mayfield replied. “I think if we set the rules, it should go back to staff” to take care of business after that.

Another unidentified man began by praising Mayfield for what he termed “your courage on the Flatiron Building,” in voting to allow it to convert to a boutique hotel.

He then asked Mayfield about her view of the current process of seeking council approval for any new hotels in Asheville.

“Right now, for anyone who’s been through this process, it’s challenging to try to meet all the needs and demands of City Council,” Mayfield answered.

An unidentified man asked Mayfield, “How many police cars are there in downtown Asheville?

Mayfield paused, looked around the room, and then said, (Assistant City Manager) “Cathy Ball has left,” so, in front of the CIBO audience, she asked “someone (from city staff that was still in attendance) to text someone to find out that information.” She said that, upon receipt, she would pass the answer on to the questioner later.

An unidentified woman asked Mayfield “if we’re doing a better job to collect data around hotels, homelessness” and other issues.

“I think you’d be surprised,” Mayfield answered. “We (city staff) have a lot of data…. This afternoon, we have a work session on affordable housing based around data. Our new city manager, Debra Campbell, is very data-driven and believes in operating off data.”

An unidentified man asked about “the moratorium ... If a hotel is in the process of being designed, would you consider a cutoff for those who have not gotten” approval?

“Those who have gotten a conditional use zoning permit can continue,” Mayfield replied, adding that it will be “business as usual.”

Taking issue with Mayfield’s “business as usual” comment, an unidentified woman identifying herself as being in the local tourism industry, said that, despite the wishes or many locals opposing the building of more hotels, “More people are going to come (to visit Asheville), whether you want them or not.”

The woman added, “So you’re looking at two to three years, when a hotel can be constructed, even if they have the money.

“Asheville does not have a convention center hotel,” which causes a problem for many large corporations, the woman contended “Unless they (visitors) have the money to go to the Omni… Hopefully, we can have a convention center hotel.

“These high-wage-earners company want to move here…”

In response, Mayfield told the woman, “Good point. I should not have said, ‘business as usual.’”

An unidentified man said, “We seem to have a pretty good complement of ‘no bananas.’ No nothing, ever. From the optics, why would I want to suffer the brain damage of moving to Asheville, when I could locate elsewhere?”

Responding, Mayfield said, “The truth is, I think that that is a narrative that doesn’t hold truth.”

Her comment caused a bit of a buzz among the CIBO attendees, so Mayfield then added, “Most (hotel proposals) go through. I know the narrative (to the contrary) is out there. I think that’s based more the public dialogue than the actual decisions made by the city....”

Further, Mayfield asserted, “People ask me ... Why are we not attacking women’s clothing boutiques (as new hotels are being verbally attacked)? Another chocolate shop? Or a coffee shop? There are spaces all around downtown that are getting renovated.

“Our comprehensive plan is all about increasing density. We can’t grow out — we’ve got to grow up.”

What’s more, Mayfield said, “I speak to you about things and you think, as a business group, that we’re anti-business. When I speak to neighbood groups, they think” the opposite — that council has been bought off by the hotel chains.

She said much of what is being argued constitutes, in her view, mere “rhetoric.”

At that point, Cannady, CIBO’s president and emcee, who rarely asks questions of guests at the meetings, queried, “What is it about hotels that we (the city) want to stop the growth of?”

Mayfield replied, “Because we have a lot of them being built. From our perspective, a lot of them have been built over the past five years. We’ve absorbed some 1,200 new hotel rooms over the last five years. That’s a lot of hotels. 

“As you know, for a lot of people here, the expansion of tourism industry means Asheville is losing its character. They don’t like that. We get communications on a daily basis, telling us how horrible we (council) are for approving the hotels.”

Cannady responded, “But that just says we don’t want any more hotels.”

“Well,” Mayfield countered, “we also hear we don’t have enough hotels... Again, the moratoirium is to get a better framework in place.”

As Mayfield, considered an environmental activist, concluded her talk and extended Q&A, she received — for the first time in several presentations over the years to the pro-business group — applause from the CIBO members at the end.


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