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Stay on the pulse of the decisions being made at meetings for Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commission, with reports from BPR’s Laura Hackett.

Last night at Council: Bohemian Hotel approved for Biltmore Village, council responds to ceasefire pleas

A rendering of the Biltmore Bohemian Hotel.
Courtesy of the Kessler Collection
A rendering of the Biltmore Bohemian Hotel.

At last night’s meeting, Asheville City Council approved conditional zoning to allow a new Grand Bohemian hotel to move forward. The plan for the Biltmore Village hotel includes about 100 rooms, as well as a spa, restaurant, and underground parking garage housing 180 lots. The hotel is slated for 10 Kitchin Place, across the street from the historic All Souls Cathedral in one of the city’s historic districts.

Community members like Sarah Hurlbert, a reverend at All Souls Cathedral, spoke in support of the hotel during the public comment period. Hurlbert said the developer did a great job of communicating with the folks who work and own property near the proposed hotel.

“This is not going to be a Holiday Inn plopped down across the street from all these wonderful historic buildings,” she said. “There is real attention to detail and artistry, to trying to enhance and I think frankly, as I stand from the front porch of our church, sort of completes the other half of this rib, this center line that goes from us this to the former train station.”

Another resident, Neal Reed, said he supported the project but was worried about the implementation.

“There's not room for two-way traffic,” Reed said of the two one-way streets near the hotel, Angle Street and Boston Way. “So what is the traffic pattern going to be?”

As part of a community benefits package, the developer promised to create a small public park near the hotel, upgrade a crosswalk at Hendersonville Road, install bike racks, build a new 800 ft sidewalk, and contribute money to the city’s affordable housing, public art and reparations funds. For each room, $6,000 will go towards either affordable housing or reparations, and another $300 per room will go to the city’s public arts fund. The project will also build a stormwater retention system that will reduce risk of flooding in the area.

These kinds of project benefits should have been mandatory under the city’s Hotel Overlay District requirements, but they were voluntary because of specific zoning requirements of the Biltmore Village Historic District.

Council members approved the proposal on the condition that the benefits package be mandatory rather than voluntary.

Protestors in support of Palestine gather in downtown Asheville.
Laura Hackett
Protestors in support of a Gaza ceasefire gathered in downtown Asheville in November.

From public comment: Manheimer, Roney address ceasefire debate

Like several other council meetings over the last few months, last night’s public comment was dominated by community members speaking about a ceasefire resolution for Gaza.

After an hour of public comment, including remarks on genocide, anti-semitism and the Palestinian death count, Manheimer finally addressed the discourse.

She said that while council tried to “figure out if there was a path forward,” she did “not foresee that we will have a resolution that council will be considering on this issue at this point.”

Manheimer called on community members to take their concerns to higher office holders.

“You do know that if you want to be the most effective you can be on this issue, we’re not the body that’s going to make that happen,” she said. “We have a Congress.”

Manheimer said she experienced antisemitism as a consequence of the ongoing debate and asked the community to refrain from “hate speech.”

“We did hear chants of ‘intifada’ at the last meeting and in my mind that's a call to violence on a community. It's not acceptable. I myself have had several instances of anti-semitic hate speech directed at me. I've had people visit my home on Passover.”

She asked community members to try to understand one another.

“Let's not terrorize one another with words or with action and try to respect our differences and understand each other more deeply.”

Council member Kim Roney also spoke, noting that she already signed on to a letter with Local Progress, a national movement of elected officials committed to racial and economic justice.

The letter, Roney said, “calls for an immediate ceasefire, the return of hostages and the restoration of humanitarian aid. It also speaks up against violence and all of its forms, including anti-semitism and Islamophobia.”

Roney joined more than 300 local officials from across the country as a signatory. No other council members spoke on the item.

Asheville Housing Authority finances 174 new affordable units

Council approved more than $36 million in bonds to support the development of 174 new affordable units.

The money comes from the Asheville Housing Authority’s Multifamily Housing Revenue Bonds so the city is not responsible for providing the financing from its budget. The units are required to be deeded as affordable for 30 years.

Lakeshore Villas, a new development off Hendersonville Rd., will receive $23.5 million in financing to build 120 units for tenants that make 60% or less of the Area Median Income. The project, developed by Mountain Housing Opportunities, will include three buildings of one-, two- and three- bedroom apartments. Construction is expected to start in May and conclude in November 2025.

Laurel Wood, an existing apartment complex just north of Biltmore Forest, will receive $12.8 million in financing to build 54 new units, bringing its total to 105 units. The majority of the new units will be one-bedroom and income restricted between 40-80% of the Area Median Income.

The corridor from Pack Square to The Block, which will be significantly upgraded with the new plan.
Laura Hackett
The corridor from Pack Square to The Block is expected to be significantly upgraded with the $3 million Mellon Foundation grant.

Contractual qualms with The Block project

Council failed to bring a vote to a resolution to select a community facilitator for the Boosting the Block project, part of the city’s larger vision to redesign Pack Square Plaza where the Vance Monument stood prior to its 2021 removal.

The city received a $3 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to transform S. Market Street into an “active cultural corridor” connecting Pack Square to The Block, a historic Black business district.

As proposed, the $180,000, 30-month contract would have included communication and engagement, project management and strategic planning of the project.

In an RFP with 10 applicants, Illumined Leadership Solutions scored the highest, based on evaluation criteria that prioritized qualification, project understanding, relevant experience and cost proposal. Four local firms, including Thrive Asheville, Bowens Consulting LLC, Schenker Creative Co./Sankofa and JD Ellison and Company, applied for the contract.

A selection committee, which included four city and county staff members and five members of The Block Collaborative, recommended Illumined Leadership Solutions, a Durham-based firm, for the role. At a March 7 agenda briefing, council members Sage Turner and Kim Roney expressed disappointment over the selection of an out-of-town firm over local candidates, including one applicant, JD Ellison and Company, that is based in The Block.

At the briefing, members debated whether to abide by the RFP selection process or to start the process over again with a special emphasis on local candidates. City attorney Brad Branham said that if council rejects the current proposal, the committee will have to start the RFP process from scratch, a process estimated to take 77 days, according to a city presentation. The first time around, the process took 106 days.

According to Manheimer, because council failed to bring the motion to a vote at last night’s meeting, this throws the resolution into a “do-over or some other iteration that staff develops for us.”

Other tidbits

  • PEAK Academy, a charter school serving primarily Black students, will receive more than $500,000 in funding to support its programming. Council approved a finalized agreement after voting to approve the measure in February. The funding was the remaining slice of the $26.3 million the city received in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for pandemic relief measures. The funds were previously allocated to the nonprofit Step Up for wraparound services at the converted Ramada Inn. The city abandoned the plans after the California Attorney General filed suit against Step Up and its developer Shangri-La, alleging $100 million in fraudulent activity.
  • Council approved a resolution for five additional school resource officers in conjunction with the Asheville City Board of Education. The officers will be paid for by the school system. Roney was the lone dissenter on the resolution, citing concerns about other student needs around behavioral health and homelessness. 
  • Council declined a resolution to remove the County Commissioner seat on the Asheville-Buncombe Riverfront Commission. This comes after the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners failed to appoint anyone to serve on the board. Roney, Ullman and Turner all voted no on the measure. Turner and Roney both spoke to the importance of having a county presence over matters of the watershed. “We need more partnership, not less,” Roney said. 

Every second and fourth Tuesday, Asheville City Council meets at the Council Chamber on the 2nd Floor of City Hall, 70 Court Plaza beginning at 5:00 p.m. See the full recording of the March 12 meeting and the agenda.

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.
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