Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Two council members pushed for housing instead of hotel

Two members of the Hendersonville City Council last week pushed for a last-minute change to plans for a downtown hotel, replacing that idea with affordable housing, council members said in interviews this week.

Emerging from a lengthy and at times heated closed session Thursday night, the council voted 3-2 to move ahead with an agreement that would result in a Springhill Suites by Marriott on the Dogwood parking lot land. But the outcome would have much different if council members Jerry Smith and Lyndsey Simpson had gained one more vote for their proposal to switch from a commercial hotel to a nonprofit development of affordable housing.

“Since I started on council in 2009, there has been an ongoing discussion of an event center and/or hotel in Hendersonville,” Smith said in a statement. “There have been numerous plans and ideas we have seen on council. After viewing the proposal of Blue Star Hospitality and the success of the Grey Mill Apartments, I ultimately decided there is a better use of the Dogwood Parking Lot, and that is for workforce housing, which is not affordable housing. Workforce housing is designed for young professionals and families that fall within the 80%-120%” of the area medium income.

Simpson said the hotel was a big decision for the city and added she could appreciate the economic development opportunities a hotel would bring. “For me, workforce housing is a greater need in our community currently and I would have preferred to at least explore the idea with Housing Assistance before proceeding further,” she said.
Council member Jeff Miller said to suddenly pull the project from the hotel developer after months of negotiations and concessions to the city’s demands would put the credibility of the elected council and the city staff at risk.
“We have been pursuing a downtown hotel it seems like since I’ve been on the council,” said Miller, who was elected in 2013. “It didn’t work out with the mill (which instead was redeveloped as rental lofts). We have been working with the present location, the Dogwood lot, pretty heavy for two years now and have gone through a lot of staff time and Blue Star Hospitality has jumped through a lot of hoops, which you have to do working with a government and municipality. We had asked them to come back with a different design for the building, certainly a brick building as opposed to stucco, and they had gone along with those changes — most of them.
“At some point you have to look at, if you just stop right now as council members Smith and Simpson wanted to do, and you pull the offer away from them, you have to look at the credibility of the staff and the city. Is any other group ever going to trust them to work with them again? You have to look at the credibility of council. Jerry had been there from the beginning and to my knowledge had supported everything up until the very end.”
As for “the whole concept of locating in concept over a hundred apartments there, I just see all kind of difficulties there,” Miller said. “I was surprised that Housing Assistance might consider spending over a million dollars on a piece of property that could only put 100 units roughly on it. Where would all the children play?”
Council member Hensley and Mayor Barbara Volk joined Miller in the 3-2 vote for the hotel.
“This has been a need and a want for this community for a very very long time,” Hensley said. “One thing I ran on was to help diversify the city’s revenue and I feel like creating economic income in this way is one of the best ways to do that.”
She opposed Smith’s proposal to switch from a hotel to affordable housing.
“I feel like there are many better opportunities in the city to create affordable-slash-workforce housing,” she said. “I do not believe using commercial property that is not zoned residential is a wise use of money. I think we’ve got a lot of better opportunities in the city.” The city, she added, is already working with Housing Assistance to identify lots for in-fill development to increase density.
“Parking has been a problem downtown for years,” she said. “I’d like to see the deck reduced a floor and save a million and a half dollars. I do believe that we need it and that there’s a market for it and a demand for it. I’m excited about it.”
The council’s motion authorized the city to sell the Dogwood lot to Blue Star’s Satis Patel for $1,098,000. In the second, unanimous, vote, the council authorized the purchase for $1.95 million of three parcels covering two-thirds of an acre for the parking deck.
“The decision to move forward with the proposed parking deck was the best solution to the ever growing problem of finding parking in downtown,” Simpson said. “We do not have the ability to go out with parking. Therefore the only way to increase availability was to go up. I've heard the concerns of the community and I plan to take them all into consideration when deliberating the details of the project, such as parking fees, height, availability of employee and volunteer parking and appearance.”
She said she will also advocate for sustainability features such as solar panels to power lighting and collecting rainwater in cisterns for use in downtown planters and “a living wall to help the structure fit in with our current downtown aesthetic.”
Although he voted for the parking deck land purchase, Smith said the price the city paid for the land, at $68 a square foot, was out of line with what it will get for the Dogwood lot, at $16 a square foot, although he acknowledged land features that account for different values.
“The parking deck lot has buildings on them and are closer to Main Street so there would be an understandable increase in appraisal value,” he said. “However, considering there is no additional assistance in building the parking deck by Blue Star, other than the purchase price of the Dogwood lot, the discrepancy is too great and creates too much of a government subsidy for me, for the product we were getting.”
Both Smith and Simpson described the discussion as a contentious one, and Miller and Hensley said debate had grown heated at times on Thursday night. In their statements, however, both Smith and Simpson pledged to move forward with the council majority on both the hotel and parking deck. To make it work financially, the City Council has endorsed a consultant’s recommendation to bring back metered parking throughout downtown Monday through Saturday until 6 at night.
“All I’ve heard is parking deck,” Miller said. “Will there be some pain with it, and with the metered parking? Yeah. Once there’s a shakeout and a little pain on the front end, I believe it will be a real asset for Hendersonville and Henderson County moving forward. We’re going to try to do a good job and make it as painless as possible and as beneficial as possible for the merchants. I feel really good about it. I feel really good about the hotel.”