Concerns for proposed lodge, zoning ordinance revisions dominate Montreat meeting

Ty Roush
Black Mountain News
“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up,” one comment read.

MONTREAT - Additional concerns for decisions made by Montreat’s Planning and Zoning Commission and the proposal for a new lodge to be built between Assembly Drive and Georgia Terrace were raised during an April 8 Board of Commissioners meeting.

Following a March 11 meeting in which public comments were segmented into two halves, with the first occurring at the start of the meeting and the second prior to adjournment, the board returned to its original format for public comment.

Mayor Tim Helms, partnered with the consent of the governing body, has opted for public comments to be read in full during the board's regularly scheduled meeting each month during his tenure.

Because of the length and volume of comments sent to the board in recent months, the town resumed with a three-minute limit. Of 11 comments read aloud to the board, only three were cut off by the limit.

All comments submitted to the board are available to the public through the town's website.

No comments were in favor of proposed zoning ordinance revisions, discussed earlier that day by the zoning commission, or the proposed lodge to be developed by Montreat Conference Center.

Though the comments were submitted to be read aloud to the Board of Commissioners, all were directed to the Montreat Conference Center, known by its original and corporate moniker Mountain Retreat Association, or MRA, and the zoning commission.

Both Mayor pro tem Tom Widmer and Priscilla Hayner, whose family owns the property adjacent to the proposed development, were optimistic about the zoning meeting earlier that day.

"I really felt that the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting was a really positive thing for the town and for the town government as well," Widmer said.

Hayner, who was additionally tied to a letter sent by the Hayner family to the zoning commission noting concerns for the proposed revisions, said the commission responded well.

"They certainly took the process in our letter very seriously," Hayner said. "They only received it on Monday. So they, in three days or basically two-and-a-half-days, wrote a detailed response with very specific conclusions as to the direction they're going, and then they voted at the end to incorporate those."

Many comments referenced the town’s 2008 comprehensive plan, noting that “three-quarters said they want Montreat to remain unchanged as much as possible in the next 20 years” following a town survey.

Complementing statistics suggesting that the town remain unchanged in its future, “an overwhelming 91% of respondents believe the town’s spiritual history is the foundation of the community and should be preserved.”

Public comments connected both statistics, adding that building the lodge would “disparage” the image of the town and standards set by the comprehensive plan.

“To preserve this unique experience is to preserve the character of Montreat, defined by the town’s natural setting, the history of its built form and its people,” the plan says.

Zoning

Proposed zoning ordinance revisions included a new process for permit revision, which will be subjected to updated standards and an application process. Previously, a “Review by the Planning Commission” section mentioned a public review process in which “any party may appear in person, by agent, or by attorney.”

One public comment focused on a decision by the town to cancel a public hearing for the zoning commission’s meeting earlier that morning. 

Widmer and the town website notified those concerned by this decision that a public hearing has since been postponed, as the commission is reviewing its changes and is continuing to discuss additional revisions. 

Once all revisions are finalized and are presented to the Board of Commissioners, a new public hearing will be scheduled.

Hayner "(does) give the Planning and Zoning Commission a lot of credit for all of their work and for really grappling that have come in." The commission, which added during its meeting that it had been working on these revisions for two-plus years, "(was) willing to reopen the discussion to handle this."

Commissioner Kent Otto, who first stated the statistics referenced in the comprehensive plan during the March 11 meeting, said that while he appreciated all comments made to the board, he is concerned that the public is questioning the motives of the planning and zoning commission.

Moving forward, Otto said “it takes hard conversations. I’d love to see our community come together and have those conversations.”

Otto urged for understanding between all parties.

“We’ll still be neighbors today, and we’ll be neighbors tomorrow,” Otto said.