Those involved in the project say it will enhance Black Mountain's historic district

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A planned three-story development in the heart of Black Mountain's historic district will either be the biggest boost to tourism in decades or a blow to the town's village-like quality, depending on who you ask.

Both camps on either side of the planned renovation of the former Gingko Tree Gallery and the lot that houses Dobra Tea would likely agree that the heart and soul of Black Mountain is the town’s downtown, where a mix of architecture along five streets in the historic area has evolved over 100-plus years.

The buildings along Cherry and State streets and Sutton, Broadway and Black Mountain avenues have served a growing number of tourists who began arriving by train in the late 1800s. Now, one of those historic buildings is a central piece in a development that could dramatically alter the look of the district.

The developer is Joe Cordell. In 1990 he and wife Yvonne founded Cordell & Cordell, a men's divorce law firm that has offices throughout the country. It may be the largest law firm of its kind in the country.

Opposed to his plans are many, if not most, of the people who attended an "emergency meeting" at White Horse Black Mountain July 13. Andrew Snavely, whose leases the building his business, Dobra Tea, is in, estimated that more than 100 people attended.

The Cordells love - and summer in - Black Mountain, a town that they visited for more than a decade before buying a house here. Their two daughters attended Camp Merri-Mac. A native of southeastern Kentucky, Cordell felt an immediate connection to Black Mountain because it reminded him of his “Appalachian roots,” he said in a recent interview.

He was particularly drawn to the historic former Black Mountain Ice Co. building on 128 Broadway Ave., most recently home to the Gingko Tree Gallery. The building was put up for sale in late 2016. Cordell bought it.

"I saw a marvelous opportunity to contribute to the town in a major way,” he said. “I thought it would just create more of what’s already great about Black Mountain.”

In April, Cordell bought the adjacent lot, 120 Broadway Ave. Wanting to maintain the historical integrity of the district, he sought out Maury Hurt, an architect who has been working in Black Mountain for 24 years.

"Our overarching goal is to create a new building that architecturally fits into our downtown," Hurt said. "We want to design it in a way that someone driving into Black Mountain for the first time would assume it's been there for several decades."

Cordell's plans, as rendered by Hurt, will renovate the former ice company building into a restaurant. The design, which includes several dining areas in the restaurant, has yet to be submitted to the town and would require a public hearing in front of the historic preservation commission before going to town aldermen for a vote.

If approved, the renovated building "will help create a wonderful entry into our downtown area," Hurt said. The building will remain relatively unchanged, except for an addition in back to house a kitchen.

"We want to do everything we can to highlight the ice house building and preserve it as much as we can," Cordell said. "We want a truly special restaurant to go into the space. We're not looking for a franchise. We're looking for something with a special, even regional reputation. We're creating the type of space that can draw that kind of restaurant."

The three-story mixed-use building will be built on the adjacent lot, home to Dobra Tea now, according to the plans. The Trestle Building, as it would be known, would have six retail spaces at street level and 12 vacation rental units on the top two floors (six per floor). The rentals would be simple in nature and priced "as low as we can while still keeping the venture profitable," Cordell said. "We want them to reflect that simplicity that characterizes the architecture of Black Mountain now."

Aesthetically, the building and each storefront will borrow heavily from the historical structures in the district, Hurt said.

"It will take what is in reality one large structure and visually break it up into smaller, individual storefronts that gradually step down the hill, just as the older buildings in downtown were built," he said. "This will allow it to appear to be a series of smaller structures constructed adjacent to one another over a period of time."

The development would comply with the central business district's zoning ordinances, including the 40-foot building height restrictions. The project must be three stories to make it economically viable, Cordell said. He hopes the planned retail spaces will attract more retailers to the town's central business district. That would draw more people to Black Mountain, "and when they're there, they will spend their money on other things," he said.

The building would be energy-efficient and incorporate planted "living roofs" to help manage storm water runoff, according to Hurt.

The architect said his passion for historical architecture and his ties to the town make it imperative that his design enhances Black Mountain. "This will be the single biggest project in the area in recent years," he said. "Being responsible for creating something that's worthy to go into this space is a responsibility I take very seriously."

Snavely and his business, Dobra Tea, has been in his building four and a half years. The building would be razed to make room for the project.

"Our lease is up July 2018, which would be our five-year mark," he said, "but we were told they would be breaking ground on the project in March, so we want to close on April 1."

Snavely said he and his wife Lindsey Thomas, with whom he opened two other Dobra Tea locations, have yet to decide what the future of the business in Black Mountain will be.

"I'm keeping things open, but I don't have a place lined up," he said. "Landlords here are starting to charge Asheville prices for commercial and residential (properties), and that's not right. I'm really fighting for our town to remain like a village or small town. I want this town to be different than other towns."

Wendell Begley, a local historian and Black Mountain native, is a proponent of the development.

"This project that is being discussed would be the biggest thing, development-wise, to ever happen in downtown," Begley, president and CEO of Black Mountain Savings Bank, said. The project could be one of the "greatest economic incubators for downtown in modern history," he said. Black Mountain has long benefited from tourism, he said.

"Our history has turned over so many times," Begley said, "but it's always been related to our location at the foot of eastern America's highest mountain range. We can't get into Black Mountain and put a lock behind us. People are going to come."

Cordell said he's hoping for the community's support, once they become more familiar with the project.

"We're charging forward with this project full-steam ahead," he said. "We're excited."

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