Trestle Crossing, a proposed development that many see as the bellwether for the direction of downtown, didn’t get a fair shake, the Black Mountain Zoning Board of Adjustment concluded Nov. 16.
At a packed meeting at Town Hall, the five board members unanimously voted to issue developer Joe Cordell the certificate of appropriateness he needs to develop two lots on Broadway Avenue in the town’s historic district. The adjustment board's decision overturns the denial Cordell received Aug. 16 from the town Historical Preservation Commission - a decision the zoning board said was based more on commissioners' tastes than duties.
Cordell now has the green light for his project - a three-story building for stores and vacation rentals, as well as the conversion of the former Gingko Tree Gallery building into a restaurant with a kitchen in back. The only modification the zoning board imposed upon Cordell is that the two-story kitchen be a "structurally independent attached building" connected via a removable pass-through, instead of being completely attached to the restaurant.
On Aug. 16, the Historic Preservation Commission voted 3-2 to deny Cordell the certificate of appropriateness he needed, concluding that the Trestle Crossing project did not fit the guidelines for development within the town's historic district. The height and proportion of the building were out of scale with other buildings on the street, commissioner Shanda Richardson said at the time.
Cordell said three stories were necessary to make the project economically viable. He asked the commission to rehear the matter at its Sept. 20 meeting and, through his attorney, asked Richardson to recuse herself because her husband John Richardson owns a business - Black Mountain Ale House - contiguous to the project. The commission recessed for two weeks so that Shanda Richardson should get legal advice as to whether she should sit out the commission's decision.
On Oct. 4, with Richardson absent and recused from the meeting, the Historic Preservation Commission voted against rehearing Cordell's request for the certificate, based upon his modifications to the design.
Prior to the zoning board's 5-0 decision last week, chairperson Cheryl Milton said it appeared Shanda Richardson came into Aug. 16 Historic Preservation Commission meeting set on denying the certificate. That argument was made Nov. 16 by attorney Albert Sneed, who presented an affidavit from town building inspector Dan Cordell (no relation to Joe Cordell) that stated John Richardson told him in a conversation before the Aug. 16 meeting that the project was “not going to happen.”
Additionally, the Historic Preservation Commission denied the certificate without addressing whether Shanda Richardson should be recused, Sneed told the zoning board.
Sneed's case for arguing against the Historic Preservation Commission's decisions were based on six points:
- The HPC guidelines exceeded legal authority granted by the state
- The HPC placed undue restrictions on the free use of private property
- Cordell was improperly denied a rehearing
- Trestle Crossing is congruent with the character of the historic district
- The HPC gave “no competent material and substantial evidence to support denial of the certificate”
- Cordell’s right to due process was violated
Milton said HPC members' saying “I don’t like it” during their meetings showed they were acting outside of their purview, which was to determine whether the project was congruous with the historic district. Cordell’s team argued that they presented experts to show how the building would fit into the character of the district, while the HPC, Milton said, didn’t substantiate its decision to deny the application.
Attorney Bob Oast argued that his client, John Richardson, had legal standing in Cordell's request because Trestle Crossing would block the views from his restaurant and from the brewery he is building across the street. Oast presented a sworn affidavit to that effect from a real estate expert.
Several zoning board members expressed concerns about John Richardson’s failure to come forward as a so-called "affected party" during the Historic Preservation Commission's Sept. 20 meeting. The zoning board voted unanimously to not allow John Richardson to intervene.
“This is a tough call but there are two factors that concern me,” board member John DeWitt said. “One, (John Richardson) did not attend the meetings, then just shows up at the appeal. If it was that much of an issue, I would’ve been at the first meeting to speak."
“Secondly,” DeWitt continued, “I’m convinced you will still be able to see the best mountains in Black Mountain from the other side (of the brewery).”
In their decision to overturn the HPC’s ruling, all five members of the ZBA expressed concern that Cordell did not receive a fair hearing on the matter. “I think their rights were violated,” Milton said. Zoning board member Jillian Ballard said there were “problems” with the way the HPC conducted the initial hearing. Rebecca Harris said the HPC hearing was “unfair” to the petitioner.
After the meeting Joe Cordell said he plans to move forward with the project “briskly.” The St. Louis-based attorney who owns a second home in Black Mountain said he was pleased with the zoning board's decision, which he said was “fair and objective.”
“I wasn’t sure which way this was going to go at the outset of the evening, not to mention before this meeting,” he said. “I was disappointed in what happened at the previous two hearings. I feel neither went according to proper procedure, nor do I feel I was given a fair hearing in other respects.”