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Asheville OKs new hotel rules with public benefits requirements
Sunday, 28 February 2021 21:11

From Staff Reports


Asheville City Council voted 6-1 on Feb. 23 for new regulations specifying how new hotel plans can win approval. 

“It happened on the same day that the city’s year-and-a-half-long moratorium on new hotels expired,” Asheville television station WLOS (News 13) noted.

Meanwhile, the Asheville Citizen Tmes ran a headline in its online edition on council’s hotel rules vote as follows: “As Asheville’s hotel ban ends, hoteliers are steered to reparations payments.”

Under the new regulations, “council will no longer have to approve every new hotel if hotels can meet certain requirements,” News 13 noted. “A hotel first has to be allowed according to the new revised hotel overlay map. The revised map took out urban renewal properties, so new hotels would not be built there.

“The hotel also has to meet a public benefits requirement. It incentivizes hotels to do things like pay the living wage, offer affordable housing or pay to the city’s reparations fund.

“If hotels can meet those requirements, they can get approved by the joint design review committee. If hotels fail to meet those criteria, then a hotel would have to go to council for approval.”

City staff was asked to report back in a few months to explain how the so-called “work in progress” is functioning. “We have made some really great strides here, and I do think that we will probably make some revisions,” Councilwoman Sage Turner said, News 13 reported.

News 13 added, “City Attorney Brad Branham said this new way of approving hotels actually gives the city more authority to make sure hotels follow through on their public benefits promises.”

If a hotel fails to  meet its commitments, then the city can issue zoning violations, a remedy that was not available to Asheville previously, Branham told council.

“By approving these new hotel rules, council also approved a first-of-its-kind reparations fund,” News 13 reported. “Todd Okolichany, the city’s director of planning and urban design, said this has never happened in the state, and he thinks this could also be the first-of-its-kind” in the United States.

Meanwhile, the Asheville Citizen Times noted in a story on council’s hotel action, “New hotels will also be required to be reviewed by a new Design Review Committee, which will continue to allow public input.

“City officials said, since 2015, more than 1,300 new hotel rooms have opened in Asheville and more than 2,700 rooms have been approved. Because of this influx and mounting community concern led the city to impose a moratorium on new hotel applications on Sept.24, 2019, so the city could study community impacts of hotel development and create a more effective development review process. The moratorium was extended on Sept. 22, 2020, and expires Feb. 23.”

The ACT added that “Councilwoman Gwen Wisler said that the new system was better than what the council had been doing, which was to bargain with hoteliers in an attempt to get promises of affordable housing assistance, employee living wages and other help. But those promises were almost not enforceable, while the new system would give the city much more power to hold developers accountable.”

Noting that the rules will be reviewed after six months, the ACT quoted Wisler as saying, “We’re trying to get people to go down the path of this alternative so we can get the public benefits.”

Further, the ACT reported, “The new regulations represent changes from a Feb. 9 public hearing, when residents panned the rules as proposed. Some wanted a way to stop new hotel construction altogether.”



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